On his way home from school, the young narrator of The Strange Library finds himself wondering how taxes were collected in the Ottoman Empire. He pops into the local library to see if it has a book on the subject. This is his first mistake.
Led to a special ‘reading room’ in a maze under the library by a strange old man, he finds himself imprisoned with only a sheep man, who makes excellent donuts, and a girl, who can talk with her hands, for company. His mother will be worrying why he hasn’t returned in time for dinner and the old man seems to have an appetite for eating small boy’s brains. How will he escape?
This was a total impulse buy for me, mostly due to it’s gorgeous illustrations. I think it’s been getting some mixed reviews, but I really enjoyed it… it’s simple and to the point, with a very Murakami style.
I’m not hugely into the whole magical realism thing… I want to like Murakami but haven’t actually finished any of his novels. I’ve read his non-fiction book about the Tokyo sarin gas attacks and I tried to read The Wind Up Bird Chronicle several years ago and made a fair dent in it, but didn’t keep going for some reason. I think I found it a little bit too strange.
This book is definitely strange, as all of Murakami’s work is. This is actually rather charming. It reads like a fairy tale for children, which may be off-putting for some readers. Once I got used to the narrating style, I began to enjoy the story and I loved looking at all the illustrations. Truly, this book is worth having a look at simply for the pictures, which were stunningly pretty and dark in nature all at once.
I loved the way that Murakami managed to bring so much character depth into the story in such a small space. Some writers don’t even get half this much depth in a whole book! I loved the Sheep Man and the pretty girl especially. The narrator was really quite cute as well, in a melancholy way.
I think this story proves that a good writer with a following can get people to buy physical books if they’re given the right platform. Unless you were reading on a tablet, the beauty of this novelette would be lost if you read it in e-book form. Unfortunately, I ripped the little library card holder on the front of mine accidentally, which was quite disappointing, but that’s the only flimsy part of this book. It’s definitely not a book to shove in a handbag, that’s for sure!
I’d recommend this to people who enjoy magical realism, people who like fairytales and anyone who loves pretty books. You could probably read this to a child as well, as even though there are dark aspects to this story, it’s no darker than a Grimm’s fairy tale.
I’ll definitely be thinking twice before going into any back rooms in a library from now on!
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