Monday, 5 December 2016

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami Review

A weird question gets stuck in our young protagonist’s head: how did the Ottoman Empire collect taxes? This must be set in pre-Google times because he goes to a library to find the answer! But this is no ordinary library and the boy’s surreal odyssey is about to begin… 

The Strange Library is an excellent story, one of Murakami’s best and certainly his most entertaining I’ve read in years. With its child protagonist, fantastical elements, anthropomorphic animal character and maze, the story reminded me a lot of Guillermo Del Toro’s dark fairy tale, Pan’s Labyrinth – definitely a good thing as it’s one of my favourite movies!

The story shares many of the author’s signature features like the bookish and sensitive main character, precise descriptions of meals, mysterious/sad women, magical realism, and The Sheep Man, from A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance, Dance, Dance, makes a reappearance. That’s really my only critique of this book: Murakami’s unoriginality in reusing the same tropes he often does.

But probably due to its length – it’s basically a short story – Murakami thankfully isn’t given space to dwell on the usual slice-of-life scenes he likes to fill his books with, which makes it a much faster-moving and more compelling narrative. It’s padded out to novella-length by interspersing the text with an array of interesting illustrations clipped from old medical journals and magazines which adds another layer of peculiarity to the tale. My edition was also designed to look like an old library book with a borrowing-card pocket on the front and fake stamps on the interior – very cool!

Murakami masterfully brings the story home on the last page when it’s revealed what all the craziness preceding it was all about while also denying the reader a happy ending with its very bleak finale, the kind that fairy tales used to have before Disney made them all family-friendly!

The Strange Library is an entrancing Kafkaesque contemporary fairy tale that’s well-written, accessible and haunting. I happily gobbled it up in one sitting – not only will Murakami fans enjoy this but so will fans of Neil Gaiman and Guillermo del Toro as well.

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