The Strange Library, by Haruki Murakami

Review published on January 23, 2015. Reviewed by Brendan

Nudge Reviewer Rating:

Haruki Murakami’s The Strange Library was delivered with little of the fanfare that usually surrounds his novels, published at the start of December 2014. It is a very slight book, essentially a short story with illustrations to flesh it out.

It is the tale of a young boy, an avid reader, whose curiosity takes him to the local library as he tries to learn more about tax collectors in the Ottoman Empire. He feels something is wrong from the moment he steps into the library and sees an assistant he does not recognise, and from there this ordinary quest for knowledge descends further into an uncanny Kafkaesque nightmare. There are several of Murakami’s recurring tropes in the story, including the sheep man, a strange old man, a mysterious ghostly girl, yet it never really develops and is over almost before it starts. This is a shame as many of the author’s short stories are strong and self-contained, yet this feels like a good idea that is rushed through to a conclusion.

However, this is not just about the story as the presentation adds a great deal to The Strange Library. It is a little hardback book with an index card on the front, and imitation library stamps inside, as well as illustrations on almost every page. The illustrations are a strange mix, some adding to the story, such as the images of the library, with others an assortment of oddities, from a bug collection to a cake gallery and images of dogs. All are wonderfully simple but vibrant and great to look at. This is made to be enjoyed as a physical book, and a digital copy will not have the same impact.

Overall though, The Strange Library is a bit of a letdown. While the relationship between the boy and both the sheep man and girl are lovely and there is an absurdity that brings a sense of humour to the story, it feels as though more could have been made of the premise. It is not bad by any means, but it doesn’t have time to really get going in the same way that other Murakami stories do, and seems better suited to a place in a collection of stories rather than as a stand-alone. This is a pleasant but not essential read, one for the Murakami purist rather than the casual reader.

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