Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Notes on Audrey Niffenegger's The Night Bookmobile

Firstly, I want to say outright that I truly wanted to enjoy The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger. However, from the outset I noticed that the art was, well, slipshod, the level of comic-book drawing you would find in early high school. Hoping to get past this aspect of the thin graphic novel, I gave it a read, which was very quick.

Niffenegger admits, in the afterword, that the idea for the comic came to her as a teenager. The premise is intriguing- everyone has a library somewhere of every book they have ever read in their lives. Niffenegger states plainly that she has more Bookmobile stories in mind. As a standalone story, however, the Night Library is still only a nascent concept.

Niffenegger originally intended this is a parable examining the sacrifices that avid readers make for their obsession, and the often precarious balance between reading and living in the real world. She meant Bookmobile as a cautionary tale. Unfortunately it is not cautionary enough, nor are the characters developed enough or easy to sympathize with. This is largely due to a protagonist who loves books, as well as walking around in the wee hours, but who gives the reader little else to root for. Thus, whatever happens in her life and relationship with her boyfriend has little impact.

Unfortunately, the story also doesn’t quite breathe. The art remains mediocre to the point of distraction. While the idea was interesting, I am certain there are more exciting things one could do with the idea of a night library. Personally, I am less interested in seeing a library with every book I have ever read (after all, I’ve already read them) than a library that might contain an entirely different collection that is somehow related to my life (insert imaginative corollary here).

As for why I wanted to enjoy this comic, the reason is simple. Having read The Time Traveler’s Wife, her astonishingly difficult to categorize novel involving a love story, time travel, all shot through with elements of literary prose, sci-fi, horror, romance and humour, I somehow expected more here. But, as a sage teacher once wrote on my report card in high school, if one is talented in one area, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re talented “across the board”. This is my longwinded way of saying that perhaps the author’s ideal medium is novel writing, not comic book writing. That said, I eagerly look forward to whatever novel Niffenegger is now working on.

After having written the above, I did a check and discovered Niffenegger's second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, a ghost story set in in London, came out in Nov. 2009. This work warrants further inspection. And, again, I want to see what Niffenegger creates next, in novel form.

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