The Strange Library – Haruki Murakami

The first book of the year I read is an important one, well it is in my head if you are me. You see I like the first book that I read every year to be like an foresight/omen/sign of what my year ahead is going to be like. You might think I would pick an obvious favourite, oddly no because I don’t want my year to be too obvious. Not that I want it to be difficult or just rubbish, see this is where it gets trickier. I decided on The Strange Library, which is the latest book (because it is too short to even be a novella) by Haruki Murakami. So what does that mean for the year ahead?

Harvill Secker, hardback, translated from the Japenese by Ted Goossen, 2014, fiction, 88 pages, bought by myself for myself

The Strange Library is so short that it is more a fairytale with lots of (weird wonderful and inventive) illustrations throughout that tell a rather quirky tale of a school boy who regularily visits the library. Once upon a particular visit he ends up talking to and old man who wants to know what he wants to read, rather flippantly the young boy asks for books on taxation in the Ottoman empire, well libraries are meant to have everything. The young boy gets more than he bargained for when he ends up being sent to where the books are and becomes a prisoner in the library. Now to many (unless you were the Waterstones One) this would be a dream but for this boy it becomes a nightmare he can’t wake up from.

I sat down on the bed and buried my head in my hands. Why did something like this have to happen to me? All I did was go to the library to borrow some books’
“Don’t take it so hard,” the sheep man consoled me. “I’ll bring you some food. A nice hot meal will cheer you up.”
“Mr. Sheep Man,” I asked, “why would that old man want to eat my brains?”
“Because brains packed with knowledge are yummy, that’s why. They’re nice and creamy. And sort of grainy at the same time.”

 What follows after I shall leave to those who read it, as I have given away about 33 pages of 70 page book (sorry but you don’t know the denouement, I’ve left you that) and I will leave you to imagine it. One of the wonderful things about Murakami is that you never have a clue where on earth he might take the story next – in a nice way – and with a whole underworld library to play with Murakami has many options.

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Did I like it? I did, it was a fun romp. I didn’t love it, though I certainly didn’t loath it. I think I was in that mixture of thinking ‘well this is rather fun and ridiculous’ whilst also thinking ‘I am not really sure what the point is’. I have given this some thought in the few days since I read it and I think my problem might have been the library element, or maybe how the library element was played out. I love books, I love libraries and so does the young boy yet by the end of the book they become a sinister place rather than an exciting one and I didn’t get the feeling he would go back. That to me is not the moral of a good story. Libraries should be seen as exciting places of escapism and adventure should they? Or am I taking it all too literally?

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If I give myself a good shake, and tell myself not to be such a bloody critic, I think it is brilliantly bonkers. There should be something other worldly about libraries and all the information they house. Plus with the wonderful interspersed images from books (be it the library card, the end papers, some of the text, some of the illustrations) from The London Library there is a real homage to them. So all in all a quirky dark unsettling bizarre fairytale and also a brilliant, rather bonkers and incredibly beautiful book!

What does this mean for my year of reading ahead? Well hopefully that I am off to have some wonderful adventures with some unusual and exciting books, which is all I could ask for really – as long as no one tries to eat my brains out. (Note – I have read two absolute corkers, both incredibly original too so it’s working and am now reading another.) It has also reminded me I need to read more Murakami, I do love his inventiveness and craziness. What about all of you, do you have New Years reading rituals? What is the first book you have picked for the year?

33 Comments

Filed under Haruki Murakami, Harvill Secker Books, Review

33 responses to “The Strange Library – Haruki Murakami

  1. Ahh I’ve wondered about this one. One of my colleagues read it when it came out & was left a little bemused, so I haven’t rushed into it myself.

    It’s the illustrations that appeal to me the most at this stage.
    Thanks for leaving the denouement for me to discover at my leisure🙂

  2. I thought about the implications of the library and what it really meant long after I finished this one, and I still can’t come up with anything. Maybe the point is that we never really know all the answers, even from looking in books. The artwork really was amazing, though!

  3. No special choices – just trying to stick to the TBR Double Dog Dare (no new books for 3 months except ARCs…actually that’s quite a long time isn’t it…?) But I did try to finish up a couple by the end of the year.

  4. As I said in my Tweet, this was the last book I read in 2014, a nice way to end the year. Looking forward to more books for 2015, just started “To Kill a Mocking Bird,” can’t believe I never read this before as I have seen the movies numerous times.

  5. This was my first book of the year too. I loved the illustrations, I thought they were beautiful. Did your copy come with a looseleaf advert type thing in the back? I wasn’t sure what that was about. As for the story, I was a little confused by it all!

    • Oooh book snap! The illustrations are indeed beautiful and was one of the things that I really loved about the book. My edition is actually green not purple, I am not sure if this means anything? I now cant see any green ones when I am in the shops.

  6. I really enjoyed this one – loved all the vintage illustrations. (I gather the US version has totally different illus, and it was originally conceived as a children’s story!) That said, I loved it.

  7. Alexander Alexander

    A happy new year to you sir! I read the latest Muakami just before Christmas and was struck by its intense and wonderful, even magical, use of symbolism, suggesting, for me, how the world ,even safe havens like libraries, can be dangerous places , especially when faced in our existential solitude. Escape, from danger and evil, is possible through imagination, love and the ‘unexpected’ altruism of others, or something like it, is suggested in its fairytale-like moral – with a small ‘m’.If you haven’t already read it, I would go for his brilliant ‘Kafka on the Shore’ next. I’m reading Sassoon’s ‘Siegfried’s Journey’ which excellently fills in around his classic WW1 trilogy. Have also just started Virginia Wolf’s ‘Jacob’s Room’. Interestingly your No.1 for the year was mine too. Have you read any of Flanagan’s other novels, as I am keen to read more? Just finished Philip Hoare’s ‘Leviathan’ ( 5 star ) and am reading his, ” The Sea Inside” and “Wilde’s Last Stand”. Also dipping into Philip K Dick’s short stories selection, “Minority Report”, which is proving to be great. Kindest Regards, Alexander Alexander.

    • Alexander I like what you are saying that even the safest places are dangerous. The only thing is that I found it also made me think knowledge is dangerous, which isn’t something I agree with personally.

      I loved Kafka on the Shore, that is my favourite Murakami novel that I have read so far. I will also have a look into your other recommendations. Thank you very much.

  8. I read this recently and have more or less the same feelings about it. Interesting to see the different illustrations used in the edition you have. The illustrations in the edition I have are more strange and pop art-ish.

  9. I definitely agree the first book of the year is an important one. I find that January is the month where I read the most books, feeling ready for the new year, so it’s important I read ones I really enjoy. My first book was Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling, and it was a delight to revisit childhood escapism.

    I’ve tried to read Murakami before, I’ve come to the conclusion he’s very clever, but just not for me.

    • It is looking like your reading in January is similar to mine. I have been reading at a marvellous speed this month though Wild has slowed me down somewhat, not in a bad way the story is just hitting home a little too much so am having a break with some mutant horny grasshopppers – reading wise obviously.

  10. I found myself agreeably disoriented by A Strange Library. Murakami reminds us that books can be dangerous, the way they change your life. The boy’s mother is also important in this fairy tale; I thought of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd.

    • Ooh I like ‘agreeable disorientated’ yes that is very good. I love A Monster Calls, did you know there is an edition of that without pictures? I don’t know if it would work without them. It must I guess.

  11. I read this a couple of weeks ago. It was a strange little dreamlike book and I’m not quite sure what he meant by the ending either. But the imagery is still very vivid in my mind and I enjoyed having no idea what was going to happen next; it was trippy!

    The Ghost Road by Pat Barker was my first book of the year which I hope isn’t an omen because, although it was good, it was very upsetting.

  12. Col

    I like Murakami but not read this yet. I dont have much thought behind my first book of the year except to get it off to a good start – this year I started with Colm Toibin’s ‘Nora Webster’ and it was great!

    • Ooh I have that on my shelves Col and am really looking forward to it. I need to have a look at my shelves properly soon and route out lots of the books I meant to read last year. I won’t solely read those obviously but I will keep reminding myself to get to them.

  13. I can’t wait to read it, I’m hoping to read much more Murakami this year! This library sounds a lot like that in The Last Avatar and Legends of Korra Full of knowledge and rather dangerous.😀

  14. Pingback: A few thoughts on The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami | Books and Scissors

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