I know I promised reviews of a few of the past books I’ve read this year, but, after finishing Brian Selznick’s novel yesterday, I could not wait to tell you all about it. I know it is pretty early in the year to say that this is my Number 1 read of the year, but I will definitely say it will be in my top ten for this book is a masterpiece. High praise, I know, but it is also very well-deserved.
Combining excellent narrative, beautiful illustration, and a high dose of imagination, Brian Selznick has created a bittersweet and touching story, among other things, a 12-year-old orphan, a heartbroken old man, a little bit of magic, and an automaton. So, just what is an automaton? I’ll let Merriam-Webster tell you:
Main Entry: au·tom·a·ton
Pronunciation: o-'tä-m&-t&n, -m&-"tän
Inflected Form(s): plural -atons or au·tom·a·ta /-m&-t&, -m&-"tä/
Etymology: Latin, from Greek, neuter of automatos
1: a mechanism that is relatively self-operating; especially: ROBOT
2 : a machine or control mechanism designed to follow automatically a predetermined sequence of operations or respond to encoded instructions
3 : an individual who acts in a mechanical fashion
Personally, I have never quite seen a book so stylistic and original. As you open the book, you are invited to follow a young boy, Hugo Cabret, as he moves stealthly through a train station. As you turn the pages, you are greated by a rising sun and soon flying through Paris until you land beside Hugo, and are immediately swept up into his story. It has a movie feel to it as you move through the pictures. Poor Hugo; he lost his beloved clock-maker father in a fire at the museum where he worked. Because of that, he has to go live with his drunk uncle at the train-station, where he keeps all the clocks running. Hugo becomes his apprentice; but soon he is doing all the work on his own. Not long after he comes to live with his uncle, the man disappears, leaving Hugo alone and scared.
Before his beloved father died, he found an automaton in the attic of the old museum. While visiting the site, Hugo found the automaton, and smuggles it back to the train station. I don’t want to give too much away to the story, for I want you to discover it for yourselves. But what follows is a journey full of magic and rescue; for the orphan Hugo and the old man Papa Georges (from whom Hugo steals toys for parts for his automaton and also a real man, Georges Melies, who lived in France and whose life this book is loosely modeled around).
Don’t be discouraged by the size, this 534 page tome is a fast read. I started and finished it yesterday. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I could not put it down. And I will definitely reread it over and over again. This novel is written for kids, but adults will find much to love in his heartwarming story of loss, love and redemption.