The Invention of Hugo Cabret
by Brian Selznick
Analysis: Writing Style
Simple, with Pictures
The writing style in The Invention of Hugo Cabret is simple and easy to follow, but there’s also a little bit of fairy dust sprinkled over the whole thing to make it magical. The book itself is written in simple prose—no tricks or surprises here. But the characters experience such delightful and exciting things that it’s hard not to feel the magic in the writing style itself:
“It’s so beautiful,” said Isabelle. “It looks like the whole city is made out of stars.” (2.6.31)
Lovely, no? And the best part is that the whole book is filled with little moments like this, when one of the characters looks at something and expresses it in the most beautiful and magical way ever.
What’s just as important as the words in this story? We’ll give you a hint… they make up a hefty chunk of the book and give you a little bit of a break from that pesky thing called the alphabet.
Got it? Yes, we’re talking about the pictures, which are as vital as words when it comes to The Invention of Hugo Cabret.
A Trip to the Movies
The really neat thing about Selznick’s drawings is that they don’t just accompany the text; they stand alone in the text. To illustrate (wink, wink) this point, we’ll point you toward the opening and closing sequences of the book.
You can almost see how, like a film, the images pan into a scene and focus in on a specific character. The images aren’t just telling a story—they’re leading the viewer into a situation. We start with the moon and the scenery but are soon drawn into a specific place (the train station in Paris) and to a specific character (oh hi, Hugo).
The more “cinematic” moments of the book are also treated in a similar fashion. One of the longest sequences of just images in the book is when Hugo is being chased by the Station Inspector. It’s all about darting around corners, slipping through fingers, and running as fast as he can.
This is a classic movie scene (let’s talk about every heist film ever made for a second… or not) and the book treats it the same way—suspensefully. Other suspenseful moments are also treated in the same way, like when Isabelle falls of the chair while pulling the box down from her godparents’ room. Through the images, we get a sense of what's about to happen.