The Invention of Hugo Cabret was a colossal breakout hit for the already refined author Brian Selznick back in 2007. Not only did he create an enchanting story, he also bordered on damn near birthing an entirely new genre! Now, some may argue that point with a misguided dismissal: “It’s an illustrated novel. How is that new?” To those I retort, just go read the book. Not only will you marvel at Hugo’s story, you will also get lost in Selznick’s gorgeous detailed sketches… a misnomer he made work.
But we aren’t here for Hugo today! Today, we are to be wonderstruck!
I finished reading this ten pound tome (slight exaggeration) a couple nights ago with some rough northeastern thunderstorms thrashing around outside my bedroom window. As lightning plays a big part in the book, I was, predictably, enchanted by the coincidence. Then again, it doesn’t take much of a chance encounter to enchant me. Bygones. Wonderstruck is a delight.
There are two stories here, folks. One is told in text, the other in the aforementioned, hypnotizing, pencilled-in style. The text takes place in 1977. The drawings, 1927. The words tell the story of Ben, a young boy who is struck by the recent loss of his mother. The art tells the story of Rose, a girl who is struck by the recent realization that her mother is somewhat of a loss. Though 50 years separates them, these two kids have much in common. As both of their stories progress, we learn that, among other things, they are both deaf. In an interview with Publisher’s Weekly, Selznick said, “I had met deaf people who told me the thing they liked most about Hugo was the silence. Even when you’re reading words, you hear those words in your head but telling a story through pictures, there’s a feeling of silence about that and they really liked that.”
You’d have to be quite an uncaring reader not to like that quote! Here’s another:
“One of the things I love most about writing and illustrating,” Selzinck says in the book trailer’s video (see below), “is simply telling a story about characters that you care about and having it unfold in a surprising, interesting, hopefully exciting way. I write about things I love.”
Selznick is able to write (and illustrate) such touching novels because he practices what he preaches. He writes what he loves and in this case he loves a very prominent setting in his book, the American Museum of Natural History. In Wonderstruck’s acknowledgements, he says as much. And he pays homage to AMNH (and all museums for that matter) in his writing but even more so in his explicitly researched, detailed illustrations.
The only negative thing I can say for this book is that, like Hugo, the pencil drawings do have a certain texture about them that make a dainty reader’s fingers feel yucky. That’s hardly anything to gripe about though and it’s a pitiful problem that can be solved by some simple, well-mannered hand-washing, you heathen! Two dirty thumbs up!
Oh, and one final thing, it’s not available on your Kindle. Boo. But honestly, I wouldn’t want to read Selznick’s novels on an e-reader. I can’t say that about many other authors. Selznick is truly a one-of-a-kind gem who is well worth your investment in an actual printed BOOK here in 2012.
Today’s writing tip:
Take it from Selznick—write what you love.