The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This slim volume is an illustrated, extended short story. It’s not quite beefy enough to be a novella, but it is worth checking out, largely because it’s an example of Murakami’s weirdness corralled into a smaller space. You won’t find thousands of pages to leaf through here, but the world created is no less striking than that of 1Q84 .
(And there’s even a sheep man! Alongside the enormous talking bird, that is.)
The story tells of a gone-wrong trip to the library. We know that Murakami’s translation of crime fiction has informed his other work – this feels as if the author had inhaled the inherent creepiness of Roald Dahl instead of the gruffness of Raymond Chandler. It could be a kids’ book, except I’m uncertain how many children would be convinced to read by the prospect of imprisonment by a brains-slurping librarian.
Graphically, I am reminded of Tom Phillips’ A Humument: A Treated Victorian Novel not because of the treatment of the illustrations – they’re very different – but because reading The Strange Library instills that same sense of wonder, of enjoyment that comes with reading Phillips’ work.
The design breaks up the text of the short, creepy story with diagrams, photos, typographical adornments and lusciously-reproduced endpapers from books in the British Library. There’s a lot of love gone into the production of this book, and it’s likely that if you enjoyed the playfulness of Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine series, you’ll enjoy this. Though it is stranger. Did I mention the darkness?
This is a short dose of Murakami weirdness, and it makes me hope there’s more of these type of collaborations. Perhaps the author wrote it as a palate-cleanser? If so, bring on the next one.