Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick


People recommend books to me a lot. It's hard to know when or how to fit them all in! And then there's the worry I won't like a book that is very dear to a dear friend's heart. For a long time, I just avoided reading books that had been recommended to me, unless someone pushed a physical copy into my hot little hands. (This is still the fastest way to get a book to the top of my list.) So I started a new list to read of books friends recommended. If you want to get in on this, you can recommend a book on this post.

This book was recommended to me by Kelsey

I saw the movie first, and I'm not entirely sure that that wasn't a mistake. You know when books get made into movies that they're going to be, in some fundamental way, different from the words on the page. Not necessarily in a bad way, but there are things that are easier to capture in words than in movies, And in the same way, you can do different things with visuals than you can with words. But, on a fundamental level, movies often aren't as deep because it's hard to get the complexity of inner thoughts and feelings in their entirety up on the screen.

I have seen adaptations I loved, and adaptations I hated, but there is no case of which I can think where what was on the screen was exactly what was in the book, no more, no less.

Until now. Because what is in the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret is almost precisely what we see on screen in Scorsese's movie. There is really nothing in the book that is not in the screen, and in the movie version, Scorsese adds some depth to the background and surroundings that the book lacks. In short, the movie feels richer than the book, and that is so extraordinarily rare.

It isn't that this is a bad book, it's just that there isn't really a lot to it. It's over 500 pages long, so I picked it up around the same time I started The Brothers Karamazov, and expected each to take me quite a while. Then I actually started to read, and found myself buzzing through 200 pages in about 20 minutes. I mean, yes, I read quickly, but what that really means is that only about, say 40 pages of those 200 were text. And even the pages with text often didn't have very much.

The pictures are pretty, but they aren't the type to hold my attention individually for long periods of time. They are like nothing so much as more detailed storyboards for the movies the book loves, and/or preparation for the eventual making of this book into a movie.

It's the story of Hugo, the mechanical man he tries to repair, a girl who snoops around his life, and one of the pioneers of what could be done on film, but who has been largely forgotten. Or, at least, he thinks so. Hugo is an orphan and deserted by his uncle, sneaks around the train station repairing the clocks that his uncle is employed to maintain.

He is also repairing a mechanical man that is one of his last mementos of his father, and I could go on, but I'd just be putting more details on what I've already written, and there really isn't much more to this book than that.

It made a lovely movie, and as a book it is inoffensive, and had I read it first, I might have enjoyed it more. But reading it second, I was hoping for a more filled-out story, the parts that didn't make it to the screen in the interests of time, but that is really not what I found. I found the movie redux, or the movie before the movie, and in a book about the magic of the movies, it's not that that's not an accomplishment. It just doesn't take advantage at any of the things that make a book a different medium.

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