Wednesday, November 17, 2010

surprise and Audrey Niffenegger

I have to give Audrey Niffenegger credit - she's pretty prolific at producing ... prose. (I am an alliterative machine.) The Time Traveler's Wife, Her Fearful Symmetry, The Three Incestuous Sisters, and now, The Night Bookmobile.

I hated The Time Traveler's Wife, finding it manipulative in its efforts to make the reader bawl - they worked on me but I did not enjoy the migraine that followed! I had high hopes for Her Fearful Symmetry but ended disappointed with it and angry at its characters.

And so I did not expect much from her new graphic novel, The Night Bookmobile. It had the advantage, of course, of being short. Other than that, I did not anticipate enjoying it.

Except that, somehow, I did!

The Night Bookmobile is about a woman who comes across a mobile library as she wanders the streets of her town in the small hours. She enters at the invitation of the librarian, and discovers all the books of her life - everything she has ever read. It is a safe place for her, a place for rediscovery, and she leaves wishing she could stay forever on the night bookmobile. This leads her to make some drastic decisions which I can say no more about for fear of spoiling this whimsical little story.

So yes - I loved it. The artwork is alluring, the story restrained, minimalist, and the words well-chosen and simple. They bring out the pathos of the story much more eloquently than words like "pathos" and "eloquently" might.

I loved the twists and turns of the story. Niffenegger does do twists well, a hallmark of the novels I hated, but perhaps being forced to expend less words on the twists suits her better. It's bittersweet and I'm not quite sure how to feel at the end, but I like feeling this!

Niffenegger's graphics are deceptively simple. I love the way each page is composed. I love the way the light shines off the bald head of the librarian, and the way the lines of the bookshelves swallow you up. I like the way the story is not illustrated obviously, but with little hints at what is happening.

I hereby grant The Night Bookmobile three stars. As many as three because I really did enjoy it. As little as three because part of my pleasure in it was the surprise. I do recommend this book, however, and I expect that I will pick it up fairly often again and enjoy a peaceful fifteen-minute read.

Thanks to Random House New Zealand for the review copy.

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