“Would you like to see the collection?”
So begins The Night Bookmobile, the newest book from the eclectic creator Audrey Niffenegger, the author of the best-selling novel The Time-Traveller’s Wife. Originally serialized in the Guardian, it tells, the story of a woman who discovers a mysterious RV, appearing and disappearing throughout the city, housing a strangely familiar collection of books. As the years go by, the bookmobile becomes an obsession for her, as she tries tofind a way to join the mysterious driver in his endeavors.
The form of the thing usually seems quite clear to me at the beginning. I might try it out in my mind a few different ways, but there is almost always an immediate “fit” between the idea and the basic form.
It’s labelled as a graphic novel, but it’s more of a graphic short story, albeit one rich with resonance that invites rereading. It’s a story about the love of books and the price of passion. As the main character pursues the mysterious bookmobile through the city and through her life, we’re invited into a magical world that looks exactly like our own. The relationship between Lexi and the mysterious travelling librarian twists and deepens, in that literary rarity of a complex bond between a man and a woman that is both utterly passionate and thoroughly chaste. The story’s setting, the real life streets of Chicago, add a layer of realism to the story that heightens its modern-day fable quality, and this is where the strength of the format comes through: the pictures could be telling the most mundane of stories, but with Niffeneggers prose and dialogue, the story has the evocative realistic unreality of a dream. Take away the words and you have only a series of illustrations of Chicago and various interiors. Take away the pictures and the story could be dismissed as just a fancy. But with the words and pictures together, she creates a story that is both imaginative and believable; a day dream that compels you to believe in it.
Writing fiction involves making stuff up. Why not push that to its fullest possibilities? Why the arbitrary privileging of certain types of make-believe over others? I try to judge the things I read on their merits, and I hope to be judged that way by readers.
Fitting squarely between the midwestern melancholy of Ray Bradbury and the quirky daydreams of Jorge Luis Borges, Bookmobile is a modern day fable in comic book form. For Niffenegger, it’s a return to the visual storytelling her career began with. Before The Time-Traveller’s Wife became a bestseller and was adapted into a film, she began work on The Three Incestuous Sisters, a macabre saga of levitation, love, and lighthouse keeper. It was first produced in an extremely limited edition of ten. Producing nearly a hundred pages of soft-toned aquatints for the book, and binding them by hand, it was a labor of love for the artist. “I make books because I love them as objects,” said Niffenegger in the book’s afterword; “because I want to put the pictures and the words together, because I want to tell a story.” Sisters was published by Abrams and followed by a second “visual novel”, The Adventuress
In the book’s afterword Niffenegger hints at possible future stories involving the mysterious library service. If they’re intended to continue in the same format as Bookmobile, it could be the next big artbook serial after Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine.
The Night Bookmobile, by Audrey Niffenegger, is published by Abrams Comicarts
Some quotes are excerpted from an interview by the writer in Fictionary Magazine.
Greg Baldino lives and writes in Chicago, and spends a lot of time in stationary libraries. His fiction and journalism has appeared in many publications internationally. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org