‘Unexpectedly unsettling’ – The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

tslhmA young boy is looking to return How to Build a Submarine and Memoirs of a Shepherd and pick up some books about how taxes were collected in the Ottoman Empire from his local library – but it is late in the day and the library is ‘even more hushed than usual’. Directed to an old man in Room 107, the young boy is gradually sucked (Magnus Mills like) into something of a predicament. That is, the books he wants to read cannot be removed from the library and, in fear of seeming impolite, he agrees to stay and, if not read them all, at least have something of a shufty. Before you can agree that tax collection in the Ottoman Empire is a fascinating subject, the boy is imprisoned and told to memorise the books or else. It turns out… well, we won’t quite let on the nature of why the old man wants the young boy to memorise the books but it isn’t very nice.

The Strange Library is the kind of book that fits in your pocket, the kind of book you can probably get from one side to the other of in a lazy hour, but for all that Harvill Secker have done their best to make the hour you spend in the books company an entertaining one, with all manner of illustrations, diagrams and pictures that themselves look cut or grafted from other books that quite possibly our young narrator would want to read at some point. Whilst no doubt intended as a Murakami shaped stocking filler for his legions of fans, it’s actually quite a dark little tale – dark, initially, like, say, Roald Dahl can be dark or Edward Gorey can be dark; but later, at the climax, the tale is dark in the way that, say, Great Expectations is dark (dark in the way that life can be dark, dark with a ‘Darkness as pitch black as the night of a new moon’). To be packaged in this way, suggests the book is an amuse bouche when in fact it isn’t, quite. Which isn’t to say that Murakami fans will dislike the book (quite the opposite I’m sure) and more to say that the whole is unexpectedly unsettling.

Any Cop?: Originally written back in 2005, The Strange Library is a curio, dusted off to try and capitalise, no doubt, on Murakami’s ever burgeoning popularity. If you’ve yet to be seduced by Murakami’s style of metaphysics, this probably won’t help you to see what others see; if, however, you’d call yourself a fan, you’ll no doubt get a hearty kick of sorts out of it.


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