26 January 2012

Review 10: The Adventuress by Audrey Niffenegger

"When an alchemist's daughter is kidnapped she escapes into the arms of a man named Napoleon Bonaparte. Together the Adventuress and Napoleon share a passionate romance which has tragic, yet transcendant, results."

A graphic novel come coffee table book with a brief and strange story accompanied by dark but whimsical illustrations. Niffenegger created this whilst she was at university and whilst very different to her novels, the tone and atmosphere is unmistakeably Niffenegger.

First Line: 'Evolution: her father was an alchemist; he created her himself, of what, he would not say.'

I was confused to see many reviewers on Amazon comparing this unfavourably to The Time Traveler's Wife, Niffenegger's most famous and popular novel. Not that I preferred this but they are completely different things - this is an illustrated, sparsely worded graphic novel compared to the traditionally formatted The Time Traveler's Wife novel. They aren't supposed to be compared. Having said that, the feel of the book is reminiscent of all her work; dark, quirky tales of people and passion. This is far more comparable to Niffenegger's other graphic novel, The Night Bookmobile although that is more traditional than this. The left hand page features a full page illustration with words on the other side, not panelled illustrations with words overlaid. It is more of an adult picture book that a graphic novel really.

It is the story of a girl who escapes a forced marriage by burning down the house of the man. She is sent to prison for this and whilst there creates herself a coccoon so she can emerge a moth and escape in the summer. The illustrations for this sequences are particularly beautiful. She then meets a young Napoleon and has a romance with him (that produces a cat-child) that ends in betrayal and tragedy before a reunion of spirits in the ether. Clearly, the story is a little off the beaten track. One thing (among many) that I love about Niffenegger's work is that you can never be sure what you are going to get. The fact that The Time Traveler's Wife, which is beautiful but definitely her most commercial work, was so successful that it has hidden the fact that Niffenegger clearly loves writing these odd stories. I met her in Oxford last year (too exciting, I was so starstruck!) and she was clearly a quirky lady in a very natural, appealing way - not in a created or pretentious way. I really liked Her Fearful Symmetry, despite its flaws, for not being what I expected. I can't wait for her next novel, The Chinchilla Girl in Exile, which is about a little girl with hypertrichosis.

This will only take you five minutes to read as the actual words are sparse. I could probably have done with a little more story to take it from something I liked and appreciated in an abstact way to something that affected me and that I loved, like The Night Bookmobile, which I adored. I am glad that Niffenegger's commercial success has allowed us to read this part of her work so easily but this didn't capture my imagination in the way her other work has.

Try it if... you like the atmosphere of Niffenegger' previous work, rather than the stories or you like darkly lovely illustrations for grownups.

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