After spending so much time reading Anna Karenina, I figured the next book I read should be a short one. I was given Haruki Murakami’s The Strange Library last year as a gift, and, being such a small book, it seemed like the natural choice. Well, I was a bit hesitant because Murakami tends to leave me with a lot to think about, so I thought it might be rather mentally taxing, but it’s illustrated and looks so pretty that I thought it was worth a shot.
I tend to find that Murakami has this way of writing about really bizarre things in a way that makes me not question the reality or truth in it. I mean, it’s obviously a work of fiction (or is it?) but I suppose I’m easily captured into the story or into the world he is portraying. Often I’m left wondering what on earth I just read, but I don’t question the point of it. There always seems to be some significance, or some weight behind the words, as bizarre as they may be.
The Strange Library is no exception. Sure, it’s a seemingly simple story (and a very short one too) but it makes me wonder (with awe rather than shock) how his mind comes up with stuff like this.
I’ll elaborate a bit on the story in order to explain (i.e. spoilers ahead)
The story, basically, is about a boy (of unknown age and description) who visits a library one afternoon in order to satisfy his curiosity. He was walking home from school, and randomly wondered how taxes were collected in the Ottoman Empire (and the randomness begins…)
Although he has been to this library before, his enquiry leads him to a strange old man in a room he has never seen before. This man is a bit peculiar, and leads him through a maze of corridors to a “reading room” which is actually a prison cell in which he gets locked up. During his incarceration he is tasked with memorising three books about tax collection in the Ottoman Empire. The old man promises that if he memorises them perfectly, he will be released. Along the way, the boy befriends a sheep man, and a girl who “talks with her hands”.
Of course, the protagonist tries to escape because he worries that his mother will be hysterically worried about him, and because he’s concerned about this pet starling, which might starve to death if his mother is too worried to remember to feed it.
I did sympathise with the protagonist – he seems like a decent guy – but there was also something kind of detached about it all. Well, I’m not sure that “detached” is the best way to describe it, but it was sort of like an out-of-body experience. It was like floating around some midway point between reality and fiction. Everything is weird but everything is believable, and you go along with it because you’re intrigued.
The only thing I’d really fault it on (and it’s not really the book’s fault) is that it didn’t really quite fix my “book hangover”. I finished The Strange Library in just a few days, just reading it to and from work. TSL is more a short story than a novella or novel. A beautiful book nonetheless, but if only it had been a bit longer. This morning I was still left wondering what I should read next; anything I considered seemed like a wrong choice.
I think I will go with fantasy or sci-fi – something quite different to what I’ve been reading. I very briefly thought about not reading anything for a while, but that thought was quite terrifying.
I finished The Strange Library yesterday, and I haven’t had a chance to read yet today, so I’ve been able to take a bit of a break (and procrastinate on making a choice) but maybe tonight I’ll pick up another book…