I’m pretty sure I bought The Strange Library as an ebook, never read it, forgot it, then picked up the physical version in the library years later. This is not a book that would have translated well to the ebook form because the fold outs and page turns are pretty essential to the story. It also seems sort of like a children’s book, but feels too existential in a way. It’s weirdly philosophical in a way I can’t quite explain.
Turns out libraries are indeed places to improve your mind, but not for the actual purpose you might think, as one unfortunate boy finds out one afternoon. To that end, a grumpy librarian who might be a little manipulative and forceful about helping you find what you want might have demonic/scary ulterior motives, and also might terrorize an assistant who wear a sheepskin (not sure what “Sheep Man’s” story is either, we’re never told).
This is more or less a picture book with relatively large text, but it does feel like there’s more meaning in some of the images, and I have a feeling there might be more if I could read the Japanese characters or had more familiarity with the art style than I do.
Maybe it’s just that I’ve read some of Murakami’s full-length novels, where things do weirdly spooky and dark but mostly resolve by the end, but this one still feels different. I wonder if maybe my expectations from his previous work are part of the problem, or maybe that’s what he was aiming for. This could be horror for kids in a way, but the ending doesn’t really work for something like an R.L Stine novel, and the whole bit with the starling doesn’t quite make sense. And I still want to know what happens to the Sheep Man. And then there’s kind of a weird sad epilogue that doesn’t really fit, and what’s up with the emphasis on the shoes?
Conclusion: this is weird little book. I don’t get it really.