‘All I did was go to the library to borrow some books.’
The Strange Library I discovered in my local bookshop while perusing and I have found myself coming back to look at it over and over again since my recent obsession with Murakami’s work. What pulled me in with this novel was the intriguing cover and even more so the continued illustrated pages inside. This presents like a children’s story but is written by the king of bizarre yet fascinating fiction. I was interested enough to pick it up on the weekend and take it home with me. The narrator of The Strange Library finds himself wondering about taxes in the Ottoman Empire and heads to his local library to discover the answer. From there an old man takes him to the basement and his story spirals from there.
This story was a very short read, taking well less than half an hour to read cover to cover. The prose is short in length reading more like a fable or a novella and in some ways could be classified as a children’s book. What I discovered upon finishing this book was that the beautiful marbled inside cover and most of the figure diagrams throughout the book are from real books in the London Library. I love this tie to the real world and history of books that would rarely be opened in this day and age.
The story itself reads like an overactive child’s imagination. The old man who locks children in the basement labyrinth of a library sounds like a nightmare you might have with equally bizarre characters that are a product of your imagination. The sheep man and the girl who talks with hands are fascinating characters and make you want to know more about them. The sheep man apparently appears in one of Murakami’s earlier novels which is now going on the list of books to be read. I love the continuation of ideas across his novels and after reading Kafka on the Shore only recently I find myself thinking about the labyrinth in the basement and how that word derives from intestines, which if you think about it is exactly how a maze looks. The idea of magical surreal goings on within a library appeals to my soul that loves books, over-stuffed arm chairs and old libraries.
This books will not be for everyone. It is short and sweet and not exactly a true novel. I, however, found it amusing and puzzling. Something I know I will return to another day when I have some time to spare and want something to ponder. It is something beautiful to sit and visually enjoy. Something that encourages my own imagination to wander. Something that gives me the often lost feeling of being a child and having these surreal ideas that seem entirely plausible at the time. I give The Strange Library three sheep in honour of the sheep man.