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The Strange Library (英語) ハードカバー – 2014/12/2
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'All I did was go to the library to borrow some books'.
On his way home from school, the young narrator of The Strange Library finds himself wondering how taxes were collected in the Ottoman Empire. He pops into the local library to see if it has a book on the subject. This is his first mistake.
Led to a special 'reading room' in a maze under the library by a strange old man, he finds himself imprisoned with only a sheep man, who makes excellent donuts, and a girl, who can talk with her hands, for company. His mother will be worrying why he hasn't returned in time for dinner and the old man seems to have an appetite for eating small boy's brains. How will he escape?商品の説明をすべて表示する
Anyway it was a delightful but short read, and I don't know that it was worth the price. I'd recommend almost any of his other works before this.
As for the story itself, do not be deceived by the quick pace, young protagonist, the illustrations, and simple vocabulary: this is not a children's story, but rather a "fantasy for adults" as the book cover on the Japanese version states. The elements of magical realism are what you'd expect from entering-his-prime Murakami, the themes of detachment, loss, and coming-of-age (as well as the requisite mysterious, pretty young woman) will be familiar to veteran Murakami readers, and the ever-present menace, oppression, and threat of violence foreshadow the darker parts of some of his later works. The combination of cute pictures and whimsical elements with what really is a pretty heavy storyline heightens the dissonance--and, I would argue, the enjoyment--of this unique work. Despite being a quick read, it is one that sticks with you and flits around the subconscious long after you close the cover for the last time ... like a dream ... or perhaps a nightmare.
The first thing to note is the exquisite design of the book. A Kindle version will not do. It is a beautiful object and is meant to be handled and appreciated for the artistry of presentation. There are all sorts of little things, like, for instance, a notation on the spine of the book that let's one know that one cannot read the book outside the precincts of the library. So, you, the reader, are also inside the strange library.
The voice of this work is vintage early Murakami: Whimsy, laconic humor, a mysterious beautiful girl, a sheepman, labyrinths, and worlds with permeable borders. Critics sometimes note a connection to the French theorist, Lacan, and a theme of ever deferred desire in Murakami. This may be true, but this work is more Heidegger and his notion that all being is "being towards death," for mortality is the overt threat and deep context that suffuses the entire tale with ennui.
For the rest of this, I am going to talk details, so this is a spoiler alert. Don't read further if you do not wish to discover the plot and denouement.
The modern West is secular, superficially optimistic, and more deeply nihilistic. This is my view. We distract ourselves from the ominous and ever present danger of death, which we nonetheless have hidden away as much as possible. Our consumerism is driven by the need for novel spectacle to keep darkness at bay. And yet, we are also still the heirs of Western Christendom. Why this excursus? Because Christianity tells a story of death's defeat. The most fundamental reality is deeply comic, because life has the last word.
So, even a secularist in the West will often bear a trace of religious belief. We like happy endings and we "believe" in them. Thus, Murakami's tale will be unsettling and disappointing, because it subverts hope. Death is victor in this fairly tale for adults.
If one wants a rationalist version that could explain the plot. Here it is. A little boy, thoughtful and sensitive, is living with a sick mother and his pet bird. At a subconscious level, he knows his mother is dying, but he doesn't want to face it. Then one day, his pet bird dies. The death of the bird makes grief and loss existentially real for him. The yawning abyss of loneliness that awaits should his mother die suddenly becomes overwhelmingly real. The little boy hides out in a library for three days. He loses his new shoes. When he returns home, his mother is sweet to him and doesn't berate him, for she is full of unspoken understanding.
The last page of the book is written in tiny print. The boy's voice is reduced to almost nothing. His grief wishes to make tragedy disappear. He announces that his mother has died of a mysterious illness and he is alone. Grim, single m.
In this context, the fabulous tale is an effort to escape what cannot be escaped. That is why the boy's allies disappear and his seemingly successful attempt comes abruptly to nothing. The boy's courteous nature before the menacing old man is a wish that decency and good manners would win out over evil and decay, but it just doesn't. More could be teased out, but this is probably already too prolix.
Bottom line: This is a good, early work, but you might feel cheated. You might feel it's unnecessarily bleak and mean. One might alternatively appreciate the work as a blend of adult insight, ingenious design, and child-like dreaming that embodies an idiosyncratic myth. The darkness at the end may appear a relief from sentimental and too cheaply bought victories.
This reader appreciates the latter possibility, but as a believer in what Peter Leithart calls "deep comedy," I was rueful of the ending. I prefer Murakami when he offers a more comic vision, though I suspect his metaphysical agnosticism more naturally tends in this direction.
“But that doesn’t give them the right to saw off the tops of people’s heads and eat their brains. Don’t you think that’s going a bit too far?’”
If you haven’t ever read a story by Murakami before, he’s odd. Very odd. I’m trying my best to review this without giving away any spoilers at all for those who just want to read the story and for those who like to dig for the deeper meanings.
That being said, The Strange Library is a short story presented in a lone book. The book itself is odd, the cover has to be flipped open and has very strange vintage Japanese illustrations to match the story. Everything about the story seems simple and straightforward- not digging deep into characters or plots- adding a richness and dreamlike quality to the story.
But, if you take it to the true Murakami level of reading (we’re talking deep philosophy here) then the reader just might see that the story really revolves around the boy, his pet bird, his mother, and death.
<<<<www.readingbifrost.com>>>> visit blog for original review with details (contains spoiler)
Overall The Strange Library was a fabulously odd short short story wether you’re just looking for a quick read or something you can sink your teeth into. I’d suggest getting a hardcopy instead of an ebook for this one just because the Chip Kidd design does add a lot to the story.
This bite-sized work is great for a Murakami fan looking to devour more of his work, or for a new reader to get a taste of Murakami's world - but it definitely isn't as in depth or satisfying as some of his better known works (Kafka on the Shore, 1Q84, Wind Up Bird Chronicles, etc).
The interesting and original thing about this novel comes with the beautiful artwork interspersed throughout the book, that accompanies the story. It's like having pieces of amazing cover art spread throughout the story, and complementing the story as you read it.