The Invention of Hugo Cabret is an odd book. It is part prose and part graphic novel and...more(This review first appeared in my blog, The Malaysian Reader)
The Invention of Hugo Cabret is an odd book. It is part prose and part graphic novel and the illustrated parts are not there to lend a visual clue to the reader’s imagination but are in fact part of the narrative themselves. The odd feeling lessens once the reader understands what the story is about and without spoiling too much, it is about movies or to be more precise silent movies, a heritage that had been lost by the time the story begins (early 1930s).
Hugo Cabret is an orphan who lives within the walls of a Paris train station. He secretly keeps the clocks there running on time, a duty his alcoholic uncle trained Hugo to do. Hugo also has a hobby or perhaps an obsession. He is trying to fix an automaton rescued from a burnt museum in which his father perished. Hugo believes the automaton contains a message from his dead father and is determined to make it work again so he can find out what the message is. To acquire the gears and thingamajigs for the machine, Hugo steals windup toys from the toy booth opposite his literal hole-in-the-wall. The toy booth is manned by a grumpy old man who surprises Hugo one day and catches him red handed trying to steal one of the man’s toys. Thus begins the story.
And it isn’t a bad story but nor is it a good one either. Billed as a children’s book, the writing is so stilted I’m not sure what age group author Brian Selznick was aiming for. Here’s an example:
"From his perch behind the clock, Hugo could see everything. He rubbed his fingers nervously against the small notebook in his pocket and told himself to be patient.
The old man in the toy booth was arguing with the girl. She was about Hugo’s age, and he often saw her go into the booth with a book under her arm and disappear behind the counter."
I’ve read better from my daughter’s Wimpy Kid books. The prose is simply not fun enough for a child to get into and isn’t sensitive enough for a young adult to appreciate it. None of the characters, neither Hugo, the girl nor the old man are given any depth to their personalities. While reading the book I realized that Hugo and the girl he spies from his hideaway are interchangeable if it wasn’t for their genders. The old man who starts out as an ornery sourpuss becomes a loving father figure by the end of the story and that all happened just because he was rediscovered as the genius that he is? No in depth explanation as to why he was bitter in the beginning other than disillusionment? That’s it? Perhaps I’m asking too much out of a children’s story but parents might have to read this to their kids and they have to enjoy and understand what they read first and in that department Selznick’s writing does not help. Then there was the contrived way it all wraps up: Hugo’s father’s favourite movie just happened to be directed by the old man (who was an actual person so this book falls under historical-fiction), the key necklace worn by the girl just so happens to be the missing piece Hugo needs to power his automaton which, wouldn’t you know it, was actually invented by the old man. It all fits rather too nicely and the writing felt so lacking in any kind of ‘heart’, it makes it difficult for the reader to care for Hugo (well, I didn’t in any case). Nice artwork though.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret has nice illustrations but sadly is partnered with poor prose that downgrades this book from a ‘wow’ to a ‘it could have been better’.(less)
Written in the style of a biographical novel, it is not a bad book but it didn’t rock...moreFollowing review is an excerpt from my blog The Malaysian Reader
Written in the style of a biographical novel, it is not a bad book but it didn’t rock my world either. The most glaring omission I felt was the lack of details. Very little is spent fleshing out the characters. Tun Perak, his father Tun Perpatih Serdang, his mother (unnamed), even the bad guys like Raja Rekan were not given much space to explain their motivations. It is simply, “here are the cast, this what they did”. It is as if the author takes it for granted that the reader already knows Malaccan history and the politics of the era. After a few chapters of this I lost patience and just skimmed the pages to the end.
A good primer on the early days of Islam from the eyes of Aisha, the Prophet's young wife. Though all the major events in Islam during the Prophet's l...moreA good primer on the early days of Islam from the eyes of Aisha, the Prophet's young wife. Though all the major events in Islam during the Prophet's lifetime is told in the book, Kamran Pasha chose to rush through the era of the four Rightly Guided Caliphs, all of four of whom Aisha outlived. This is unfortunate because it was the era of the first four Caliphs that the history of early Islam got really interesting.
An atypical western, The Sisters Brothers is really a story about relationships. Relationships between the brothers, between the brothers and the many...moreAn atypical western, The Sisters Brothers is really a story about relationships. Relationships between the brothers, between the brothers and the many people (and one horse) they meet on their journey and between the brothers and their quarry, Hermann Kermit Warm, whom they were assigned to kill.
Don't need a cursory knowledge of some of the major events of the 20th century to enjoy this book but it'll help. Allan Karllson lives his life as qui...moreDon't need a cursory knowledge of some of the major events of the 20th century to enjoy this book but it'll help. Allan Karllson lives his life as quietly as possible as long as there is enough vodka to drink and food to eat. However, he tends to involve himself in things that go on to greatly affect the world. That was in his younger days. Now that he is a hundred year old man, he somehow is on the run with a suitcase full of money, a motley crew of newly found friends and some bad guys who want their money back. There is also an elephant called Sonya thrown into the mix but she doesn't do much except that one time when she accidentally sat on...nope, that would be a spoiler.
A pleasant read. A bit absurd (which I think was the whole point) and a whole of fun watching the old man living a full life without really intending to do so.(less)
Just as Noor Suraya wanted to introduce Hang Tuah’s story in a manner that would interes...more(This review is an excerpt from my blog: The Malaysian Reader)
Just as Noor Suraya wanted to introduce Hang Tuah’s story in a manner that would interest younger readers (see here), Hikayat is the result of ninotaziz’s wish to preserve and introduce classical Malay epics to today’s generation. Unlike Noor Suraya’s adaptation which is in Malay, the tales in Hikayat have been translated into English which from a marketing standpoint is just plain smart. Author Nisah Haron in her review of this book opined that telling these mostly pre-Islamic Malay epics in English means that today’s young Malaysian bookworm who is probably already more exposed to English books than Malay ones would be more willing to pick up Hikayat. If that is the best way to let them know about the rich literary heritage of Malaysia then I’m all for it.
All the stories collected in this book are the abridged versions, naturally. At only 276 pages, Hikayat is way to slim to include all the epics in their complete form. Nevertheless the book acts as a wonderful primer and a treasure trove of stories that risk extinction through lack of interest, read only by stuffy academics in stuffy halls of academia. Ninotaziz wants these stories to be enjoyed by the people as they were originally intended. Let’s hope her efforts will be rewarded.(less)
A totally horrible person, Flashman is a coward, a liar, a murderer, a thief and in this first book, even a rapist. He takes credit for something he d...moreA totally horrible person, Flashman is a coward, a liar, a murderer, a thief and in this first book, even a rapist. He takes credit for something he did not do and shirks blame like a slippery eel. All in the name of survival and the British Empire. The best anti-hero in English literature, perhaps second only to Shakespeare's Richard the Third. This first book is the best. It goes downhill after that but the decline is slow and the adventures fun.(less)