Book Review | The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

The Strange Library Haruki Murakami Book Cover North America

[I received a copy of The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami (Translated by Ted Goossen) from its Canadian publisher Random House Canada. This does not affect my opinion of the novel.]

After my first experience with Murakami earlier this year, I’ve been eager to read more from this famous Japanese writer. Well, I’m happy to report that my second encounter with Murakami’s wonderful (translated) writing did not disappoint.

The first surprise, for me, was the book’s presentation. The book was shrink wrapped when I received it, and before opening the package, I thought that the cover was to be removed completely, like a sliding cover of sorts. But, to my delight, I was wrong:

The Strange Library Haruki Murakami North American Book Cover Sample

…instead of sliding off, the book opens outwards! This in itself made the book feel unique and special, but it doesn’t stop there. The book is filled with funky graphics and photographs that really add to the strangeness of the story. It ties the book together in a really uncanny way, and I especially loved the consecutive images towards the end of the story. (Kudos to Chip Kidd, who once again has created an unforgettable work of art.)

But perhaps I should rewind and go back to the basics: the story. The novel (or, perhaps more accurately, graphic short story), is called The Strange Library and a strange library it truly is. Other words I’d use to describe it: peculiar, haunting, nightmarish. The basic plot: a boy walks in to his local library looking for some books about taxation during the Ottoman Empire, and is instead sucked into a confusing labyrinth where he meets a sly old man, a “sheep man,” and a beautiful girl. He soon learns that the library is a prison, and that his captor has no intentions of letting him out. Can he work together with his odd companions to escape? Or will he be stuck in this torturous library forever?

I found this story particularly interesting because there seemed to be a lot of symbolism and imagery that demanded the reader’s attention and begged to be analyzed. I think, on the surface, this is a curious, somewhat scary story about a boy trapped in a library, but underneath it all, is a tale about fear, loneliness, and loss. At 96 pages, I was able to read this book in one sitting but its length is deceiving as it packs a lot into its pages. If you’ve been following my blog you may remember how I sometimes have a hard time with shorter stories; I sometimes find them underdeveloped or too short for my taste (even though I realize that short stories are, by nature, short). However, I did not have problems with The Strange Library‘s length, and I definitely attribute that to Murakami’s wild imagination and Goossen’s translation. Even though I am considering the book read at this point, I still feel like there’s so much more to discover. I will most definitely be re-reading this book.

As a sort of aside, I’m not sure how the book appears on e-readers, but I would suggest reading this in print. The coloured pages and the inventive design makes it so, so worth it.

Verdict: Another strong Murakami read for me. This story is so delightfully haunting and weird that I just can’t stop thinking about it. I’m looking forward to re-reading it and discovering new things every time.

Read if: You’re looking for a short but wildly imaginative read, enjoy books that are illustrated or have a graphic component to it, are a English-speaking Murakami fan that just can’t wait to see what he has in store for us. (I am officially jumping on the Murakami fan bandwagon!)

Have you read The Strange Library? What did you make of everything that happened? Do you think what happened was real? If you haven’t read the book, do you think you will?

20 thoughts on “Book Review | The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

  1. Naomi says:

    I remember reading about this book, and being intrigued by it, but unwilling to take the risk. It’s good to know you liked it so much. If I come across it again, I will know to pick it up. I was wondering about the fact that it is set in a library; is the library setting important to the story, or could it have been set anywhere?

    • Karen @ One More Page... says:

      I think, on the surface it could be set anywhere, but when you delve deeper, the fact that it takes place in a library might be significant. (I’m thinking of one line in particular – “”If all t[libraries] did was lend out knowledge for free, what would the payoff be for them?” It may be just a line to add to the madness of the story, but I wonder if there’s something to be deciphered there.) Interesting question though; I’ll have to keep it in mind the next time I read through the book!

  2. DoingDewey says:

    How cool! I also enjoyed Colorless Tsukuru and want to read more Murakami. I also like translated fiction in general because of its expectation defying tendencies and this seems like a great example of a book doing that.

  3. Leah says:

    Wow, this book’s release totally snuck up on me. Your review is the first I’ve seen! I might have to buy myself a copy, like, today. It sounds like such an interesting physical object, and you know how much I love Murakami.

  4. jjoongie says:

    this was so … strange! and creepy! haha. i’m still mulling over it. i liked the length of it, too — i thought it was the perfect length for the story — and agree that this is a book to reread! it’s such a wonderfully designed gem, too; i loved the juxtaposition of large text with all the graphics and illustrations.

    what a fun reading experience!! 😀

  5. Ruby @ Feed Me Books Now says:

    I received this book as a Christmas gift, and I found myself spending half an hour of Christmas morning utterly absorbed by the tale. I completely agree with using “peculiar, haunting, nightmarish” to describe the book – it’s easily one of the most bizarre books I’ve ever read. That said, I loved it! I’ve made it an aim of mine to read more Murakami throughout 2015, given I also loved 1Q84. I have a copy of Norwegian Wood, another Christmas gift, I can’t wait to begin. 🙂

    Lovely review Karen!

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