The Strange Library

Author: Haruki Murakami

A boy wanders into the public library, randomly curious about taxation in the Ottoman Empire, for whatever reason. When he asks at the main circulation desk, he is sent (rather than to the normal stacks) to room 107, a lonely, distant room inhabited by a single elderly man. The man finds the boy’s books, but demands that he read them in the library, leading the boy down an even more deserted maze of corridors until the boy finds himself locked in a cell with the books. A man wearing a sheep-skin and a beautiful, enigmatic girl visit his cell, bringing food and warning him that as soon as he’s finished memorizing the books, the old man will eat his well-informed brain. The boy is desperate to escape–if only he hadn’t been so obliging to follow the man to start with!

I’ve been seeing Haruki Murakami’s name come up quite a bit recently, but I’d never read anything of his until I picked up The Strange Library at (gulp!) my own local library. I’m not quite sure how to put my impressions of it. Philosophical and odd, I suppose is the best way to express it. That, and experimental. The story itself is very strange, in a way that makes me think there are probably cultural, philosophical, and literary connections that I’m just missing. Mostly, to me, it was a fable saying “stop being so blasted Japanese and stand up for yourself!” or something like that; the boy in the story is really absurdly accommodating. The tone of the text itself is interesting–almost poetic, maybe? It’s rather brief, yet there’s an atmosphere to it that is more than you’d expect from the shortness of the style. Possibly one of the most unusual aspects of this volume is the rather experimental use of pictures and layout. Nearly every other page is some sort of picture–drawing or photograph–that in some way relates to the story, but not in clear way like a picture book or graphic novel. More like it’s helping to set the mood or something. Added to that, the cover has this odd wrap-around vertical sleeve that you have to open before you can get to the normal horizontally opening pages–this vertical wrap ended up dangling the whole time I was reading, getting in my way and generally being annoying. I think The Strange Library was an interesting reading experience, one that might be greatly enjoyed by those with a more philosophical taste, although if you’re more into action and clear-cut storytelling, this probably won’t be to your taste.

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