I read, loved, and reviewed The Invention of Hugo Cabret earlier this month. I’m not going to talk about the book itself again here. Instead, I want to talk about the audio production of Hugo Cabret. For those who have read it, the idea of an audio production might seem strange – the book is half pictures! How does one change pictures into audio format? But indeed an audio version exists. Shelley first mentioned it to me and told me a little about it. Then Aarti sent me a link to a youtube video where Brian Selznick explains how they translated the artwork to audio.
According to the youtube video, picture sequences were converted into sound, so that a listener could follow the story that way. The sounds created the pictures in your mind, the way they might have in an old radio program. That sounded fascinating, so I knew I had to try it out. I checked the audiobook out from the library and listened to it over a couple days. I listened to Part I while looking at the book, and to Part II without looking.
It was an interesting experience. Most of the sequences of pictures were converted to sound. The sound was easy to follow and understand. Even if I hadn’t read the book before, I would have known exactly what was going on. Some pictures were understandably skipped. For instance, some pictures just show a character for one page, and then the text continues. There’s no actual story or movement to the picture, so no sounds were associated with them. In some cases, whole series of pictures were skipped, though. For example, when Hugo looks around the bookstore and finds the magic book, instead of having sound (what sounds would work there??), a few words are added to sum up what Hugo did in those pictures. Same thing when we meet Etienne for the first time – he’s described as “a boy with an eyepatch” rather than just “a boy.”
There were a lot of interesting vocal and sound tricks too. Whenever someone would enter the bookstore, a bell would ring. When they’re at the ceremony at the end of the book, the announcer’s voice is magnified and distorted as though talking through a microphone in a large room. In a way, the sounds really enhanced the audiobook and made it more than just an audiobook, the way the pictures made the book more than just a book.
The reader, Jeff Woodman, did a good job reading. Each of the characters was distinguishable by voice and vocal mannerisms, so I never got confused who was speaking, and the inflections indicated emotion well.
On the whole, I have to say I prefer the book to the audiobook, simply because I love the visual quality of it and I prefer books to audio in general. I’m impressed, though, with the way this unique book was handled, the way it became a very unique audio production as well.