The Night Bookmobile, by Audrey Niffenegger – Book Review

It wasn’t until after I’d read Audrey Niffenegger’s novels The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry that I found out she was also an illustrator and graphic novelist. She has two earlier “novels-in-pictures” The Adventuress (which I’ve since read) and The Three Incestuous Sisters. The Adventuress was really, really strange, but still I picked up a copy of her most recent graphic novel,  The Night Bookmobile. It’s a moving, though disturbing, book about the joys, sorrows, and isolation of reading. The main character is at an extreme on the reading spectrum- one I am happy to report that I do not occupy- but still,  her story stayed with me for quite awhile after I’d read it.

Alexandra is out walking late one evening when she comes across a Bookmobile and its librarian and sole employee Mr. Openshaw. Upon entrance she encounters all the books that she read growing up as a girl, and finds all the novels from her adulthood including her diaries, letters and personal papers. Oddly, some of the books stop in the middle, their remainders filled only with blank pages. The next night she wants to return to the Bookmobile, but though she spends many years exhaustively exploring the city streets, she only sees it sporadically, and many years go by between each visit. In the intervening years she breaks up with her boyfriend, eschews most company but that of her books, and studies to become a librarian.

Alexandra doesn’t stop with her efforts to become a librarian, but you’ll have to read on to find where her pursuit of the Bookmobile takes her. Niffenegger is not exploring middle ground with Alexandra, but through her relentless pursuit of reading, the avid reader will come upon familiar ideas and circumstances – sometimes you do want to shut out the world and curl up with a good book. Part cautionary tale and part exploration of libraries and the reading life, The Night Bookmobile has an undeniably haunting component that lingers, and makes you think about the exchange you make when you pick up a book and start to turn the pages. Recommended.

Read More Reviews At: S. Krishna’s Books –  The Written World – 1330V

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  1. I read that Audrey was a visual artist prior to being an author… which makes a lot of sense, because her novels are so visual and symbolic. She paints a picture with her words, in the same way that an artist would with a brush – I’d love to see these graphic novels, to see how creative she can be in her own element.

    1. Totally agree with you Danielle. I did see this book and leaf through it, and the illustrations are arresting. (BTW Danielle, I cannot leave comments on your blog. It won’t accept any of my sign-ins. And I don’t have your e-mail. I am not ignoring you!)

      1. I think I remember reading that she had mapped out Highgate Cemetary for when she was writing Her Fearful Symmetry. I also think this might be the first part in a larger work. I wonder if it will be the beginning of a novel.?

    2. You should definitely flip through them. There is an elementary quality in The Adventuress, while the drawings in The Night Bookmobile were more sophisticated. She really has a wide range.

    1. She definitely makes you think about the solitary nature of reading and how it can be both a blessing and a curse if you don’t manage your time welll!

    1. It was definitely an interesting way to look at the reading experience. I shouldn’t be surprised that she does this as well. I’m finding that people usually dabble in more than one form of creativity.

  2. I read and enjoyed The Three Incestuous Sisters, though it is very odd as well. This one has been on my radar for a bit, though it floats in and out of my mind. I need to go ahead and wishlist it, as I think it sound veryyy interesting. Thanks for a great review, Nicole!

  3. I didn’t know that Niffenegger had written graphic novels as well – multi-talented 🙂

    I’m very intrigued by the blank pages in some of the books … and your caution/relief that you don’t share the intensity of obsession that Alexandra does. Very curious about this one, thanks, Nicole!

  4. I read this one earlier this year and just never was able to review it because I wasn’t sure of my thoughts on it. I wasn’t entirely sure of what Niffenegger’s message was. I am not sure how I fit into it, either. I think I am a pretty social person, but there are many, many times when I’d rather be with my books than people. Right now, I justify that by pointing out that I’m in grad school surrounded by people all the time and doing tons of group work, so I like to spend my spare time pursuing solitary things like reading. BUT all the same… hopefully I don’t get as isolated as Alexandra!

  5. I read this book earlier this year and really enjoyed. You’re right about the ending being haunting. The author did an excellent job of illustrating the difference between a passion and an obsession.

  6. Found you through the Saturday review linky.
    I liked The Night Bookmobile so much I named my blog after it, ha. I also really loved Time Traveler’s Wife and was completely disappointed by Fearful Symmetry. It’s weird for me to be so all over the place with an author that I love some works and despise others. The only other author I’ve felt that way towards is Salinger.

  7. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this book and looks like yet another one for the RIP Challenge! Several participants for 2011’s challenge included this one and it seems so intriguing. I need to try to get into graphic novels and this might be the place I need to start!