Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

by Brian Selznick
Selznick's book is like a treasure box full of early twentieth-century delights: magic lanterns and mechanical men, clockworks and secret histories. It's also somewhere between a graphic novel and young-adult literature: the two forms are beautifully integrated and both essential to the storytelling. Hugo Cabret is an orphaned boy carving out an existence in the walls of a Paris train station, continuing his dead uncle's job of setting all the clocks twice a day. If he fails to keep them running, the station master will discover that his uncle had died, and Hugo will evicted from the timekeeper's apartment. With his resources nearly exhausted, Hugo's fate becomes intertwined with those of a mysterious shopkeeper and his granddaughter. The plot is full of exciting twists and turns, some of them revealed only through the moody, atmospheric drawings. Despite its 500 pages, it's just long enough for one breathless night. In the morning, you'll think you dreamed the whole thing.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


by Amy Bloom
Lillian Leyb has come a long way. Something nightmarish has happened to her, far away in the Russian village where she grew up, and we learn of it just that way, in her nightmares; she's reluctant to talk about it with anyone. She's got a new life now, in New York City, and things seem to be going well. With only a very bare-bones English vocabulary, she charms her way into employment, and then into a plush life as mistress to both a handsome star of Jewish theatre and his father. But when a voice from the past gives her a bit of heart-wrenching news, she knows her journey has only just begun.

But of course, Away is not the sort of book you read to find out what happens next. For the reader, as for Lillian, it's all in the journey. Bloom finds the magic and the heartbreak (and, often, the humor) in every situation, and Lillian's hope and despair bleed into us. Away feels somewhere between a novel and a sequence of linked short stories, but she uses her skills to flesh out whole lifetimes in brief, brilliant, flash-forwards. No one Lillian Leyb touches remains unaffected.