The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami / Review
The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami Publisher: Harvill Secker Publishing Date: December 2, 2014 Format: Hardcover Pages: 88 Source: Publisher Buy the book
Haruki Murakami’s The Strange Library with a child protagonist being lured into a mysterious library and a sheep man serving freshly prepared doughnuts – perhaps the sheep man from A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance Dance Dance – immediately reminds his readers of the Brothers Grimm’s famous fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel. Yet, in Murakami’s story, it is not the doughnuts that will fatten up the child protagonist and turn him into a delicious meal for the strange old man working in the library. Rather, the knowledge being attained from the books is to make a mouth-watering meal out of his brains.
The story actually begins with the protagonist going to the library to return some books and on the way to the library he recognizes a sudden desire to read about Ottoman tax collection system. Yet, the volumes on Ottoman tax collection cannot be taken out of the library and for this reason he is led to a reading room in which he is locked.
As a matter of fact, from the very moment the protagonist enters the library he feels something strange: “the library was hushed more than usual” and “my new leather shoes clacked against the gray linoleum. Their hard, dry sound was unlike my normal footsteps” (1). Moreover, despite seeing the grotesque face of the old man in the library, he cannot bring himself to leave the library because he is not “… very good at giving anyone a clear no” (10).
After the door is locked on him, the protagonist starts his descent towards the very bottom of the library: “It was a very long staircase. Long enough, it seemed, to reach Brazil” (17). This is the very turning point in this short novel: either a world that is similar to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland or the Brothers Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel will welcome the child protagonist when the descent comes to an end. Unfortunately enough, the latter is proven to be the case as he ends up in a jail cell where he compulsorily starts his reading about the Ottoman tax collection.
Whether the protagonist manages to escape this maze-like library, you can only find out upon reading the novel. However, by choosing a storyline more similar to the Brothers Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel rather than Carroll’s Alice, Murakami seems to be critical of the information and the way it is consumed. Today, information, which has been transformed into a consumer object, in the schools and libraries is carefully categorised and presented. In this way, it has long become a handy tool for the education system to produce not only individuals in line with our consumer societies but also a system working towards specialised knowledge. In this nightmare-like visit to the library, Murakami in his usual funny and witty way looks like telling us something about this matter through his child protagonist.