REVIEW: THE STRANGE LIBRARY
I like trying new things. New foods, different videogames, new TV shows, new ways of doing things. You get the idea. This is also true of my approach to reading and writing. I've always been one to want to delve into something that's unique or different in some way. One of the ways I've been doing that is by participating in the BookTube SFF Awards where I've been reading some of the nominees in different categories. One such book was Haruki Murukami's THE STRANGE LIBRARY. I didn't really know what to expect other than that this would be a weird one and I was excited to see just what this book had in store.
HOW I CAME UPON IT
Like I mentioned before, this is one of the BookTube SFF nominees. Prior to seeing this book on the shortlist, I'd never really heard about either this book or even the author in general. The only other thing worth noting is that I bought this as an eBook since I kind of waited till the last minute to make my purchase.
HOW I RATED IT
3/5 I think I'm going to be a bit in the minority on this one, but I truly just did not care for this book as much as I thought I would. I found it lacking in a number of different ways and am actually hurrying to write this review because I find myself forgetting this story's details already.
While not normally something that I'd put in a review, the visuals for THE STRANGE LIBRARY are actually very important to one's enjoyment of the piece. Additionally, it is critical that you buy the "correct" edition of this book and avoid my mistake of purchasing the rather pricey eBook (it costs almost as much as the paperback). This story is filled with trippy artwork and when reading this on an eReader app, those images do funky things with the way the text appears. Pages won't be filled all the way, sometimes there will be a couple sentences below the image and there is just an awful lot of white space around said images. In short, this is clearly something that the publisher had no business turning into an eBook, especially if they were going to do such a sloppy job with it. That said, I really should have looked into the contents of this book a bit more like I normally do before making a purchase, but because I wanted to get this bought and read right away for the readalong, I sort of just hastily got the lackluster Kindle version.
I don't know that buying the hard copy edition of this work would have solved all of my problems with it though, because I didn't care for the artwork very much. It's not bad, so much as that I didn't find it aesthetically pleasing. But, after checking out videos of people who have the hard copy, I can say that the way the book is put together is definitely weirdly unique and well worth the couple extra dollars plus shipping. If you are going to read this, it really needs to be read on paper.
The characters in this story are a bit of a double edged sword for me. On one hand I really loved how exotically colorful and paranormally weird they were, but on the other, they felt like empty shells of characters that could have been interesting. They were effectively both my favorite and least favorite part of this story.
The main character is a polite, young boy. I can't quite remember what his name was or if he even had a name at all. Could I look in the book and find the answer to that? Yes, but there really isn't any point because he could be anybody. He's one of those characters that isn't quite a Mary Sue since he does have a tiny bit of character development, but he's also generic to the point of his name being entirely irrelevant.
The same is true for pretty much everyone in the supporting cast. The Sheep Man and the Old Man are by far the most distinct personalities in this story, but even they just don't feel complex enough for me to have really found them compelling in any way. I think a good analogy for this cast is that they feel like people you might meet in a dream. They are wild, wacky, and sometimes a little twisted, but they're so out there that by the time you wake up, you realize they aren't even close to an actual person in real life. This was effectively the sensation I had upon finishing the book. After "waking up" I just had an overwhelming sense that all of these personalities felt too wispy to be truly memorable.
This world is a regular rabbit hole if there ever was one. What starts off as a normal library quickly turns into a horrific dungeon of strangeness and woe. Like the characters, the setting is very dreamy, but is far more distinct. If I had to pick one aspect of the book that I liked consistently the best, I would say it was this very strange library. Murukami vividly describes each section and I rarely felt wanting for more detail in this area. I'd like to go a little deeper with this particular element, but because this is such a short story, it would be difficult to do so without getting into heavy spoilers.
Like I just mentioned, this is a VERY short piece of fiction. I don't know what the exact word count is or anything, but I would be very shocked it it was anything more than what most generally consider a short story (15,000 words or less). It could be within the novelette range, but I'd be shocked if it was in the novella category. Page-wise, I think it will probably fill the same space as your typical novella, but half of that is really just pictures.
To be clear, I have NO issues with short stories. In fact I love them. The main issue here is that since this is being given the full book treatment, I think I wanted more from it. More content, more character development, more substance in general. I really just felt like plot seemed rushed or somehow abrupt at every turn. The world is intriguing and the characters show promise, but Murukami seems bent on rushing readers in and out of this tale as quickly as he can. Now obviously, that is not Murukami's intent here. Despite all of my criticism so far, I actually think that Murukami is an author of exceptional talent.
Where I believe the story might be tripping me up is in the fact that everything in this book appears to be a symbol for something else. I'm the type of reader that likes a bit of symbolism or open endedness. I think books that leave a little room for a reader's own thoughts to enter into the story space are those that resonate the most with readers that like interacting with the fiction they read. I suppose I've just never run into a story where there is so much empty space, that the work seemed a little empty. I simply wanted more substance with which to draw conclusions and come up with different interpretations.
I wanted that little bit of space at the top of the coffee cup with which to put my cream and sugar, but what I got in this case was a cup half full. There's just too much negative space here for the story to feel truly worthwhile. I know the elements are purposeful and representative of much larger ideas and I have several interpretations of my own regarding what all of this strangeness really means. It's just that I wanted a story with a little more depth in terms of the main narrative. I think I'd be open to trying something else by this author later on and I certainly didn't hate this book. I'm just not understanding where all the love and praise is coming from for this work (maybe there's something I missed) and it's very likely that the details of this story will fade from my memory at a rapid pace.
Because of it's short length, this can be easily read within a single sitting and I'd recommend that anyone reading does in fact consume this all at once in order to potentially get the most out of it's contents. It is a curious read that's (kind of) unlike any other that I've read before and any who are entertaining the thought of picking it up should definitely do so and see if it resonates with them a bit more than it did with me.
THE STRANGE LIBRARY can be purchased in eBook, Audio-Book and Paperback editions on Amazon, though like I said before, I'd really recommend not going the eBook route with this one nor do I think the audio version would be particularly worthwhile either.