The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger
Unlike probably most of her many, many readers, I knew (not personally, but as an author, I mean) Audrey Niffenegger first as a graphic artist than as a novelist; her ‘novels-in-pictures,’ The Three Incestuous Sisters (2005) and The Adventuress (2006), sit prominently displayed (covers facing out for maximum effect) on my hall shelves.
But I know, I know … you’re thinking I must have gone into hiding behind those shelves to have missed her mega-international bestselling debut novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife (plus film!), and her more recent follow-up, Her Fearful Symmetry (set in and around one of my favorite London haunts, literally … Highgate Cemetery). I have both those titles, too. And I am finally making up for lost Time for sure – pun intended. I have Time on my iPod (yes, I bought the book twice!) providing me with transporting company on my training runs.
But back to Niffenegger the graphic artist … because this month, she debuts her first-ever, full-length graphic novel. The Night Bookmobile began as a short story originally published in Zoetrope All-Story in 2004. Then Niffenegger adapted it into a serial graphic novel for London’s The Guardian newspaper that ran from May to December 2008. Now, finally, you can hold the whole story in one stunning bound volume.
After a fight with her live-in boyfriend, Alexandra goes for a walk at 4:00 a.m. through the deserted streets of Chicago. She happens upon the Night Bookmobile – “an enormous, battered Winnebago, all lit up and thumping out ‘I Shot the Sheriff'” – where an old gentleman named Mr. Openshaw welcomes her in “to see the collection.” Alexandra is surprised to realize every book is familiar: “… I had read all the books. I mean, I’m a pretty avid reader, but I had never been anywhere, even my own apartment, where I’d read everything. Everything.” [I will admit to the same, although someday, somehow, I DO hope to read everything on my shelves – no snickering, please!]
Talk about a Luddite book lover’s dream come true … although I’m sure you techno-addicts are thinking those new-fangled e-readers could hold more books than the Winnebago, but then you’d be missing the point! As Mr. Openshaw exclaims, “The Library seems to think we can do everything on the Internet now, but of course it really just makes more work.” Give me ink and paper anytime, every time!
Indeed, Mr. Openshaw confirms that the Bookmobile includes Alexandra’s everything, down to “all the periodicals and ephemera – cereal boxes and such – which are in section C, to your right.” As for books Alexandra started but never finished, the pages become blank where she left off. Niffenegger is truly masterful in creating just the perfect details – in both her narrative and her drawings.
When Alexandra gets home, boyfriend Richard’s disbelief in her magical literary adventure does not prevent her from regularly searching for the battered Winnebago, “roaming the city aimlessly at night.” Soon enough, Richard accuses Alexandra of infidelity and moves out. “I found myself alone in my apartment, alone with my books.” Without any more distractions, Alexandra “began reading all the time … Like a pregnant woman eating for two, I read for myself and the librarian.”
Another chance encounter nine years later leads Alexandra to become a librarian herself because, as Mr. Openshaw gently explains over tea and cookies (and tears), she cannot possibly come work with him. Even after she rises to library director, Alexandra cannot shake her ultimate desire to work in The Library with Mr. Openshaw. Her determination knows no bounds … and the surprising twist remains disturbingly shocking.
Night is “the first installation of a much larger work, The Library,” Niffenegger promises in her “After Words.” More adventures to look forward to certainly. And gratefully. Luddite readers unite!