Sometimes opening something has such a velvety quality, the unknownness of it so black, the mystery so tangible you can almost feel it; like rubbing paper between your fingers. Opening The Invention of Hugo Cabret: a novel in words and pictures is like that. And the adventure unfolds from there. The biggest discovery being how Brian Selznick has almost single handedly reinvented the form of the novel and what a book can be. The story is told in pictures and then in words, back and forth, never repeating scenes. Words and pictures move the story along sequentially; they are not meant to expand on one another nor elaborate. Yet enhance each other they do. Different in this way from a graphic novel, the pictures take up the whole page adding unimaginable layers of depth. Each speaks 1000 words or more, describing both setting and scene with lush pencil strokes, sturdy in execution yet exquisite in detail. It just makes me want to run my fingers over the page, flip them back and forth, back and forth... The quality of the paper is rich as well, reminding me of the the lushness of Vida Simone's art and the memory I have of a personal performance with miniature puppets she performed for me in my apartment (among others) as part of her show at The New Gallery years ago. Telling stories in her own personal way. Hugo Cabret does the same thing.
So flip through the pages I did! And discovered, much to my delight, that the individual sequences of images throughout the book act like mini flip books, animating individual scenes, imitating the earliest animations and stop motion film sequences of silent movies. This adds a physically tangible metaphor to the history of cinema that the book probes to a certain depth; satisfying in metaphor of not breadth. To this add steampunkish elements tying clockwork magicians to the mysteries of the human heart and human bonds. It's no wonder it won the Caldecott Medal in 2008.
Et tu parle Francais? Since the book does take place in Paris.. get the the French version here. The book has so many layers. Its very form is half of it! This leaves me wondering if a film on the book can truly do it justice. Yet the story is so strong in and of itself, and.. it does deal with the invention of cinema, so a film MUST have something to add to the discussion of itself... "Hugo" In theatres TODAY (November 23rd) you can watch the trailer here. One thing I don't doubt= I am excited to see it!
I'm even more excited to read and experience Selznick's next adventure in the re-invention of the novel = Wonderstruck. Here he talks about how he wanted to tell 2 stories. One about Rose, set in the past, told in pictures and one about Ben, set in the present, told in words. At some point the stories meet in the middle and either a puzzle is solved and/or a new mystery evolves. See the website here.
Let the mysteries begin. Perhaps all is not lost to e-books and cyberspace. Selznick has given us something in these books akin to the realization that the specialness of a handwritten letter or home made card can never equal an email or Facebook Message. So go ahead - use you pencil!