When I first saw this book shared on Goodreads, the book cover and the title called out to me immediately. I am just glad that I now have the perfect excuse to read and feature it for our current reading theme.
The Library At Mount Char
Written by: Scott Hawkins
Published by: Broadway Books, 2015
ISBN-10: 0553418629 (ISBN13: 9780553418620) Literary Award: Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Debut Goodreads Author (2015)
Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.
I was not sure what to expect when I first started reading the book. A few pages in, I was wondering if this is a case of the contents of the book not living up to the hype and the promise of the cover. It was slow-going in the beginning, but the reader becomes aware instantly that while the setting is contemporary, there is some weird fantasy, alternate reality going on here as well layered into the narrative.
The story sucked me in with descriptions of strange-but-clearly-brilliant librarians trained only in one particular “catalogue” living together like siblings (but not quite) in some infinite library that contains all the world’s books – ran by someone called Father who might or might not be God. The problem is that he is missing. And his trained progeny are unable to get into the premises of the library because of some magnetic forcefield that threatens to kill them every time they try to get near its doors. Each of these librarians, powerful in their own right, are affected in different ways as they attempt valiantly to access their library-home and find the all-powerful Father who trained them, and whom they love and hate in equal fashion. The question of whether Father is alive and who would take over the library (and the entire universe, by extension) is the crux of the story.
Heart Coals and The Denial That Shreds
The story is plot-driven and filled with quite a number of characters that you will have to keep track of. The fantastical elements also need a bit of getting used to, especially since the story is told by an unreliable narrator. The writing reminded me of a cross between Stephen King (the cursing and the mid-Western vibe in some parts) and Daniel Kraus, then add in a bit of the mystical, not-really-sci-fi-but-getting-there-feel to the irreverent narrative, then you’d probably have some sense of what the story is.
Yet despite the largely unfamiliar terrain, Hawkins throws in a curve ball by introducing things like “heart coals” and the “reissak ayrial” or the “denial that shreds” to describe the emotions that the librarians are struggling with. The forcefield, for example, that surrounds the library is a reissak ayrial, a denial that shreds that is made up of painful memories that one tries in vain to forget, but can be masterfully turned into a powerful shield. Then there are heart coals, an “ailment” or a “pathology” manifested through a distant song, the baking of brownies, a childhood story – all representing a longing for a love lost and gone.
In the beginning, I found it difficult to connect with any of the characters, especially with Carolyn, despite her obvious strength and vulnerability. Maybe because I didn’t know yet where the story was headed. However, as the narrative unravels, I couldn’t put the book down, as it is written with so much unapologetic grit and vicious uncovering of truths that bite and burn you into a piece of coal, until you are resurrected, of course. This has all shades of strangenesses, each one of them I wear like David’s tutu and Carolyn’s Christmas sweatshirt and red galoshes. Definitely a must-read for fantasy and book lovers who are into murderous librarians who live and rule at the edge of the universe.