There’s strange, and then there’s Murakami.

I’ve been immersed in Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels in preparation for my trip to Italy in June. Fancying a brief palate cleanser between volumes 2 and 3, I picked up Haruki Murakami’s The Strange Library (2014). The beautiful hardback volume with its stunning end-papers and quirky illustrations was the perfect length to read over an afternoon in the sunshine.

The Strange Library tells the story of a young boy who regularly visits the library to find the answers to the myriad of questions that puzzle him from day to day. On this particular occasion, he was curious about how taxes were collected during the Ottoman Empire. After returning his books, he is sent down a gloomy corridor to the reserved section to find books on his chosen subject. The sinister librarian he finds there, locates suitable volumes but he has to read them on the premises, as they are not to be removed.

Beginning to panic that his mother will be worried about his absence, but too intimidated by the librarian to object, the boy follows him down into a gloomy subterranean place deep beneath the library. He meets a sheep man (it’s Murakami, remember?) and a beautiful disappearing girl who break the news to him that he’s trapped, and will unfortunately meet with a terrible fate.

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I’d like to say all turns out well in the end, but this is a Murakami tale, and it just gets more and more surreal. Meals feature heavily – another constant in Murakami’s peculiar world, and while the tale feels quite light and short to read, the juxtaposition of eerie illustrations peppering the text give it a nightmarish quality. It didn’t take me very long to read it, and at the time I thought it was charming if perhaps a little slight, but its dark menace has stayed with me reminding me that Murakami’s magical realism certainly has bite.

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