“The Night Bookmobile” by Audrey Niffengger (Abrams, 2010)

Night Bookmobile
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The Night Bookmobile is a dark, haunting, graphic picture book tale of the obsessions one can have with books and reading.  Alexandra leaves her home one rainy night after arguing with her boyfriend and walks the streets.  It’s after midnight and she discovers an unusual small bus known as the Night Bookmobile.  Approaching the door, it is answered by Robert, the librarian, who invites her aboard, serving her tea.  On the Night Bookmobile Alexandra finds every single book she’s every read, from her first to the ones she read as a kid, to her cherished books in college, to the paperbacks she finished recently; even her personal diary is here.  Surprised beyond belief, she enjoys her tea, looking over and reading through the books, taking a trip down memory lane.  But the Night Bookmobile’s hours are limited, only from dusk until dawn, and as the light begins to grow, Robert wishes her a good night.  As the years pass, Alexandra wonders if she’ll ever see the Night Bookmobile again, and her wish is to one day work for Robert, or perhaps even become a librarian with him.

The story was originally serialized in the Guardian, and in the afterword Niffenegger explains that it was an idea she couldn’t get out of her head and there will be more to tell in this story.  While the end is a little unexpected with perhaps deeper ramifications than intended, overall it is a moving short story that will resonate with all readers who know what’s it like to fall in love with books and reading.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on March 4, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

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Her Fearful Symmetry

“Her Fearful Symmetry” by Audrey Niffenegger (Scribner, 2009)

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The many fans of The Time Traveler’s Wife have been waiting years now for Niffenegger’s new book and the wait is finally over.  Her Fearful Symmetry doesn’t disappoint, with a new and very different cast of characters set in beautiful London and centered around famous Highgate Cemetery.  Niffenegger went out of her way in researching this book, spending time in London, as well as volunteering to work at the cemetery herself.  The result is another moving novel that appears simple at first, but becomes further complex and moving as the story progresses, the characters growing on you, making themselves a part of your life.

When Elspeth Noblin dies, she wills her beautiful London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina, but with a few caveats:  their parents are never to enter the apartment, and the twins must reside there for a full year before they may choose to sell it.  With the apartment comes a substantial inheritance.  The twins, now twenty-one, are still undecided on what to do with their lives, moving from school to school, spending every moment together – they are still virgins and have never had any serious relationships for fear of having to be apart.  They seem to adhere to many of the stereotypes of twins.  But the further one gets in the book, the more one finds that Julia and Valentina may not be destined to spends their lives linked together.

They move to London, to the apartment, viewing the sites, and waiting for inspiration to strike and help them decide what they want to do – they have enough money to live off for the time being.  In the building they meet some very special people and each befriend them in different ways.  There is Martin, a man plagued with obsessive compulsive disorder, who refuses to take any medication, and has sealed himself in his apartment, the windows covered up, the rooms filled with boxed and carefully-wrapped items.  He spends his days trying to make it across the room by counting and doing things repeatedly.  For his day job he creates complex crossword puzzles with his computer, never needing to move from the confines of his humble abode.  His wife, Marijke, has abandoned him, unable to take his ways anymore, and has moved back to Amsterdam.  One day Martin hopes to leave his home, take a plane, and reunite with her once again.  Then there is Robert, Elspeth’s mysterious and elusive lover who is also living off an inheritance, and spends his days writing a never-ending book on Highgate cemetery where he volunteers.  And finally there is what appears to be a ghostly presence living in the apartment with the girls.  But ghosts aren’t real, right?

While the head jumping and narration switching from sentence to sentence may take some getting used to, it is a style that works for the book.  The result is a novel that is just as moving and memorable as The Time Traveler’s Wife, perhaps in some ways more so for some.  Regardless, Her Fearful Symmetry, once read, is a book unlike any other.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on September 29th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.