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.