Tag Archives: The Strange Library

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?

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Filed under Haruki Murakami, Harvill Secker Books, Review