Murakami’s Twisted ‘Library’ of Secrets

The title reads “The Strange Library,” but you can automatically omit the word “strange” because chances are if it’s written by Haruki Murakami — lover of wise, talking cats and conjurer of spirits that float through dimensions at will — it’s going to be strange.

The newest published work by Japanese author Murakami, whose popular novels such as “Norwegian Wood” and “Kafka On the Shore” have sold millions of copies and have been translated in over 50 languages,  “The Strange Library” chronicles a boy’s descent into a seemingly ordinary library that proves to hold more secrets than books. Though it’s shorter than his other works — a novella at a little over 90 pages — and dubbed by Murakami himself as a “children’s story,” “The Strange Library” still carries that surreal, metaphysical tone that all his stories reek of.

The art direction and design of the novella itself stuns the reader with abstract images verging on fantastic and  foreboding before the reading even begins. Two flaps on the cover open up to reveal the typewriter text within, one flap bearing the ominous blue-green eye of what could be a dog or wolf, the other carrying a human smile and nothing else. Vivid artwork is splashed throughout the story and practically begs to be handled with as much care and analysis as the story itself.

Told from the first-person perspective of a nameless boy, a local library turns into a death trap as the narrator is led down dark corridors and into a mysterious “reading room” that ends up being a prison. The old man who jails the boy gives him an ultimatum — memorize the three massive volumes the boy has borrowed from cover to cover and if he’s unable to recite the texts in a month, his brains, soaked in knowledge and “nice and creamy,” will be devoured.

Of course, the boy knows right away that this is an impossible task, and his only way out of the library alive is to escape. He enlists the help of another prisoner, a man clothed in sheepskin whom he refers to as Mr. Sheep Man and an ethereal girl who slips in and out of the prison easily as if transparent. They plot their evasion of the old brain-eater.

Suspenseful but playful, “The Strange Library” appeals to both the imaginations of children and longtime Murakami fans looking for another venture into his mind. You might finish the book feeling incomplete, confused and bewitched at the same time —not uncommon when reading Murakami works — but the great thing about novellas is that they only take about 20-30 minutes to read.

You’ll find that rereading “The Strange Library” at least twice more will reveal hidden details… or it might just confuse you even more. Murakami tends to have that effect on people.


RECOMMENDED: “The Strange Library’s” spooky elements will appeal to both children and longtime Murakami fans.