This review contains spoilers
Devastated by the loss of his father in a Paris Museum fire, Hugo searches the rubble and finds the metal contraption his father was last working on-a mechanical automaton the shape of a boy holding a pen. Hopeful that his father may have programmed the automaton to scribble a message for him, Hugo hauls it up to his new home at the Paris station where he now lives with his uncle, the clock keeper. Soon Hugo starts stealing bits and pieces of metal, in a attempt to fix the automaton using his father’s notebook as a guide.
Hugo’s world once again comes under threat when his uncle goes missing. Afraid that he might be sent to the orphanage, Hugo decides to maintain the facade that his uncle is still around by winding the clocks of the train station and enuring that they continue working with precision.
And steals milk and croissants from a nearby cafe to curb his hunger.
One day, Hugo is caught stealing a windup mouse from a toy shop. He is apprehended by the bitter old man who owns the toy shop and his prized notebook is confiscated. The old makes Hugo work for him.
Fortunately, Hugo makes friends with the girl at the toy shop, who assures him that she will help him find the notebook. She introduces him to a kindly bookstore owner and to a friend who works at the cinema. Now Hugo leads a double life exploring the world of movies and magic tricks with his new friends, working for the old man to pay off his debt, while maintaining the clocks of the train station.
As his fingers master the finesse required to keep intracate gears and grooves running smoothly, Hugo soon realizes that he can still fix the automaton without the notebook. With the final key in place, the automaton sketches a pictures and discloses a name… Soon Hugo uncovers the mystery of the brass automaton.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret is half middle grade novel and half graphics novel. There are pages of text, interspersed with pages of illustrations that propel the story forward. Set in Paris in 1800’s this book takes us back to the era when man humankind had just learned to build mechanical devices and harness their potential. I didn’t appreciate the format of the book until I got to the end of the story.
It must have been very interesting times when cinema was first introduced and film makers realized that other than filming mundane videos of people arriving in trains or riding horse, they could now visually depict just about anything. The only limit is the imagination. Hugo soon finds out that the recluse old man used to be a film maker, forced out of business due to circumstances. Unbeknownst to the old man, he is considered a legend in the filming community.
The books brings up many interesting themes such as progression of human knowledge and understanding, and the true legacy of artists, thinkers and inventors. And takes up back to the era when mechanical devices were a novelty. After we had finished reading the book, we looked up the website mentioned in the book to see pictures of the real automaton that inspired the story. It’s called the writer. It is of three automata built by 18th-century Swiss watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz, his son Henri-Louis Droz, and Jean-Frédéric Leschot. ‘The writer’ is on display at Philadelphia Institute.
Flags: Hugo’s father dies in a fire. His uncle is an alcoholic who goes missing. Later in the story his body is found in the river.
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