Something Surreal This Way Comes in Murakami’s The Strange Library

Myra here.

So among the three ladies who make up GatheringBooks, it really is Iphigene who happens to be the die-hard Murakami fan. Apart from this book that I am reviewing for our reading theme, I believe I have only read one of his novels, the title I can’t even recall any longer, it was that long ago. And so I thought this is the perfect time to finally revisit my Murakami collection, starting with this one.


The Strange Library

Written by: Haruki Murakami Translated by: Ted Goossen Original Title: ふしぎな図書館 Fushigi na toshokan
Published by: Borzoi, Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.
ISBN: 0385354304 (ISBN13: 9780385354301)Bought my own copy of the book.

This book is a fairly quick read – something that you can read in one rainy evening, lights dimmed, a donut in one hand. This is really more of an illustrated novella or short story than anything else. A young boy visits the library to return some books (How To Build A Submarine and Memoirs of a Shepherd) and to borrow a few more.

This time, he wanted to look for books that explain how taxes were collected during the Ottoman empire. If our library loan history was any indication of our character, then the reader can safely wonder what it says about this young boy’s curious tastes. He was described to be polite, a tad timid, and armed with the conviction that the library is the key to any question he might have. When he told the librarian on the circulation desk that he wishes to borrow more books, he was directed to the basement – a place he has never been to previously. There, he met the “little old man” in the image above.

Then the strangenesses began involving a sheepman (for real), delicious doughnuts, a beautiful and seemingly-mute young woman, and a jail cell.

The young boy was locked in a cell in the library’s subterranean basement – the conditions of his release include his memorizing the three thick books that he borrowed, cover to cover – otherwise, his brains will be slurped by the little old man.

There is a dream-like quality to the narrative that moves the story forward as one surreal scene follows another, yet it never feels as if Murakami is pulling your leg. It seems more like a stream of consciousness kind of narrative where the storyteller seems to pluck details from thin air even while he knows the basic plot structure, showing you that you still remain in good hands despite the strangenesses.

I don’t think this is a book for everyone, but it was still quite the ride for a bibliophile like me. Think of it as every library-goer’s nightmare come true. A pretty satisfying read that is very classic Murakami – you never really know where he will take you next. And that can be a good thing. Sometimes.

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