The Adventuress – Audrey Niffenegger

I have been reading quite a lot of books involving time travel of late and so I thought I would read something that would be different and also a bit of a palate cleanser, if you know what I mean. I have only just (literally right now) seen the irony of the fact that I chose Audrey Niffenegger as an author to cleanse after some time travelling books – sometimes I really am a simple Simon. Anyway, I thought that Audrey’s ‘The Adventuress’ might be just the thing as it seemed rather like an adult picture book, and I don’t mean that in a snarky way.

Jonathan Cape, hardback, 2006, graphic novel, 144 pages, borrowed from the library

Put very simply ‘The Adventuress’ is the story of a beautiful young alchemists daughter who is abducted by a much older evil count before she manages to escape after setting fire to his home, and most likely him too, before she meets the love of her life. Yet of course like all the best stories there come some twists and turns only I don’t think anyone would guess the plot developments that unfurl, after all this is one of Audrey Niffenegger books and as someone who has read a fair few I have learnt that anything is possible in her hands/head.

For example, who would expect that ‘The Adventuress’ would be imprisoned and turn herself into a moth and escape from jail to find sanctuary in a library (I love Niffenegger for her vehement love of books) where she would meet the love of her life? Who would then turn that most romantic of moments into something much darker as we learn that her lover, Napoleon Bonaparte, would then pretend to go to conquer Russia when actually he has gone to have it off with lots of other women nearby? Who would have thought she might get pregnant and give birth to a cat? I know I have given a lot of the plot away there but the images are what makes this book so worth picking up as they are stunning.

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The reason I call it an adult picture book is because of it has the same deft simplicity that a children’s picture book does. You have a few minimal words, sometimes repetitive and the pictures and yet within those words and pictures are almost another story in every page. This probably sounds a little bit of a mix of impossible and me being a pretentious ass but it is true. Kids love picture books because they tell a story in more than one way, that is what I liked about ‘The Adventuress’ so much, the pictures tell you more and ask questions at the same time. Why does she never have a top on? Why does she suddenly become a moth? Who does Napoleon cheat on her with? Etc. There is also this underlying sense of the magical which all picture books have when you are a child and that nostalgic feeling hit me reading this book – and as I would have as a child I read it three times on the trot.

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What also makes an interesting addition to the book is just when you have finished it and have most probably thought something along the lines of ‘oh blimey, where did all that come from?’, Niffenegger goes and tells us. I liked this added insight into the book even if I did worry initially that she was about to do herself a disservice and dumb it down initially by saying it was some doodles of a random woman with no top on who gives birth to a cat. Yet then she found herself asking the question of who this woman was and hey presto there was a story and then there was a book, one she made herself by hand initially before she reached all the fame she has. That is like a story in itself really isn’t it?

I really enjoyed ‘The Adventuress’. It did exactly what I hoped it would in taking me away for twenty minutes (or an hour with the re-reading) into a magical world and quite a nostalgic frame of mind. I am now mad keen to read ‘The Raven Girl’ and ‘The Three Incestuous Sisters’ since having finished this and liking it as much as ‘The Night Book Mobile’. Oh and as we mentioned felines again before, here is a picture of Millie also enjoying it though not for the same reasons I did.

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Have you read ‘The Adventuress’ or any of Audrey Niffenegger’s other graphic novels and if so what did you make of them? And do you know what I mean by a picture book for adults (in a good way) or have I lost the plot?

4 Comments

Filed under Audrey Niffenegger, Graphic Novels, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Review

4 responses to “The Adventuress – Audrey Niffenegger

  1. This sounds great. Why haven’t I heard of this book before? How old is this book? must do a bit more googling

  2. sharkell

    I have to say this sounds interesting. I’ve not read any graphic books (should I be embarrassed about that?). I was put off by Audrey Niffenefger after reading Her Fearful Symmetry. When I looked her up on Wikipedia, I noticed that she has some “graphic novels” and also some “visual books”. Do you know what the difference is?

  3. janakay

    After much internal resistance (I’ve always resisted graphic novels), I read Niffenegger’s The Night Bookmobile. I absolutely loved it–the illustrations and text meshed to form one wonderful, haunting, mysterious whole. I’ve meant to check out Niffenegger’s other graphic novels, particularly The Three Incestuous SIsters (such a great title). Of course, I haven’t yet; but your great review reminds me of just how good Niffenegger’s work is (I’m also in a bit of a reading lull and one of her graphic novels sounds ideal right now).

  4. I absolutely loved The Night Bookmobile and also really liked Three Incestuous Sisters. I hadn’t heard of this one though, so thanks for posting about it!

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