Monday, October 31, 2016

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger

Reviewed by Ambrea

In The Night Bookmobile, Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry, returns with another haunting story about a young woman and her encounter with a mysterious library on wheels known as the Night Bookmobile.  Found only between the hours of dusk and dawn, the Night Bookmobile houses a comprehensive collection of books on anything and everything that she has ever read.  The narrator, desperate to reconnect with her library, embarks on a journey to find the Night Bookmobile and her memories.

I read The Night Bookmobile at the suggestion of a coworker, and I found I was fascinated by the notion of a library existing that contains every single item that a person has ever read.  Truthfully, I love the idea that every piece of information ever written or read is collected, tucked away in some supernatural library that can only be accessed by the right people.  It’s a concept that has enchanted me for years, since I first encountered the Archive in Jim Butcher’s Dresden File; however, I’m still not sure what to make of the The Night Bookmobile.

Niffenegger’s graphic novel is a curious thing.  It’s not a tragedy, per se, but it isn’t exactly a happy little story about a woman and her library.  It made me think, it made me feel things I’d rather not feel, and it made me question my own mortality—and wonder, what exactly, am I leaving behind when I die?

It’s a bit deeper than I expected.

And, while it’s intriguing, it still left me feeling slightly squeamish.  I mean, as a reader, I love books.  I must have 400 books in my collection at home, not counting the bag I keep packed full of library books or the random copies I keep squirreled away in my desk for a rainy day; however, I don’t believe my adoration of books has ever turned into something decidedly unhealthy.

The narrator of The Night Bookmobile is a young woman who encounters a mysterious library, a collection of books in the back of a Winnebago (sketchy, if you ask me) that reflect each and every book she’s ever read, and it quickly sparks an obsession.  It’s based on a similar tale by H.G. Wells, “The Door in the Wall,” in which a young man becomes consumed by rediscovering the verdant paradise he found behind a mysterious green door.  They have many of the same undertones:  obsession, desperation, an all-consuming need to go back to a time and place that was, in a word, happier.

Like I said, it’s a curious thing and, truthfully, I’m still conflicted.  You see, the narrator takes an action with devastating consequences—and her life is never the same again.  I couldn’t decide if I was bothered more by her decision or by the result, but the entire story raises questions about morality and what really matters in life…and what’s left over for the next generation of readers.

It’s haunting, and, honestly, it made me squirm.  I can’t decide whether I like it, or whether I hate it.  Part of me dislikes it, dislikes the narrator’s actions; however, another part of me is intrigued by the entire thing, by the notion that all books written or read are available somewhere—and that something, however small, is left for the next generation, some semblance of knowledge is always going to exist.

So, yes, I’m conflicted.  As my coworker noted later, The Night Bookmobile is not a book that anyone can read without feeling something, good or bad, and forming a strong opinion about it.

Note:  As Ambrea said, this is a book that leaves a strong impression, either good or bad.  In fact, there were two previous reviews of this book, which you can read here.

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