The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami (and four other strange books I've enjoyed)

Thursday, January 29, 2015


The Strange Library
Last weekend, I was browsing through my bookstore, when I came across a copy of Haruki Murakami's The Strange Library - all shrink-wrapped and looking like a book-lover's toy. Seriously, how do you resist a book like that? Even if I didn't like Murakami, I would probably walk out of the store with that book.

I love books (and food) that are interactive. It feels almost four-dimensional to me. There's the mental pleasure of being lost in the book and there's the physical pleasure of just wrapping that treasure open and wading in with excitement. The front of the book has two flaps that snap together, very much like your typical cereal box. And then you flip the pages to read.

As for the plot, The Strange Library was... well, strange. A boy goes to a library to borrow some books, instead he is sent to the mysterious basement where he had never set foot in. There he meets a strange man who have some twisted devilish motivation for running that place. The boy is trapped in his evil scheme and comes across a sheep-man and a mysterious girl who sort of help him.

There is more to the story but I don't want to go too much into it because this book is a nice little gem to read. There is some strangeness to the book, and it feels more like being lost in a nightmare. But it is nowhere near strange as some of his other books. It reminded me more of Neil Gaiman's Coraline than a Murakami book. If you have been unsure about reading Murakami, this is probably the good one to start with. It has a lot of his tell-tale narrative style and some of the strange stuff he is famous for, but it is not a full-fledged Murakami book, both in size and content, so you'll probably not feel too dazed.

That said, this is a short book, more a short story than a novel. His novels have felt more complete, if you know what I mean, despite any amount of fantastical themes. This is more like a fable, so if you do want to sample a full Murakami, I would try one of his novels, maybe Kafka on the Shore, which I enjoyed a lot.

Reading this book made me think about other strange books I've read in the past. Personally, I like the challenge of reading through a book filled with a lot of strange wonders and coming out of it, feeling accomplished. But more than that, reading such a book is also like navigating a maze. You don't always know what the relevance of something strange is, and maybe it is just a red herring, but it is refreshing to see how far the author can stretch reality and hold my attention. Still, I don't always enjoy such books. They can be a hit or miss with me. But there are some that have been a great pleasure to read.

Coraline: Imagine being lost in a strange place as a kid where your parents looked same but also different. And they weren't your parents at all, but some impostors intent on harming you. Being lost was something I feared as a kid, probably like many other kids too, so this book with all the creepy strangeness in it felt a little like falling into a deep hole in one of those nightmares. Even Gaiman's Ocean at the End of the Lane was just as strange and beautiful.

Life of Pi: This isn't as strange as the others but it was still pretty strange. What really happened to Pi? Was it all a dream? Did he really sail with those escaped animals (oh poor animals)? Or did the accident have such an impact on him that he replaced real people and incidents with a fantasy built entirely in his head? And what was the deal with that island?

Kafka on the Shore: Here's a Murakami book that left my mind reeling. Talking cats, falling fish - you know the drill. It's amazing how Murakami can hold a story together on a bunch of inexplicable fantasies. It's not like he builds this weird world of his. He just goes with the flow. Oh, I think a talking cat will be a good thing to include here, let me write that scene - that's what I imagine him doing. I always find reading his stuff amusing, because he really stretches my imagination and makes me feel wow about it.

The Silent Land: Probably my favorite book of the lot, this one isn't so much strange by the time you get to the end - all the strangeness actually has a logic. But it is the first 90% of the book that dominates the book that seriously gets your skin crawling and your brain in overdrive. Meat that doesn't decay? A hotel whose guests suddenly vanished? A road that just goes in circle? It's super strange and super sad too. But super rewarding as well.

Now, tell me about the strangest book you ever read!

18 comments:

Farm Lane Books said...

I haven't read The Strange Library, but it sounds fantastic! I love strange books, especially where everything makes sense at the end, so The Silent Land sounds perfect for me. Thanks for drawing it to my attention! For strange books I recommend Cold Skin by Albert Sánchez Piñol - it's about giant humanoid toads. War with the Newts by Karel Capek is also very good. Strange I like amphibians so much!

Ti Reed said...

Ah yes...The Silent Land. What a strange book, huh? Oh, you mentioned Kafka on the Shore and now I want to read it all over again. Probably my fave book.


Strange Library was just a really cool little story wrapped in a nice package. A collector's piece, really. I read it twice and the 2nd time, I was even more into it. Well, mainly because I was on a hell of a lot of painkillers with my eyes the first time around and if you thought the story was strange when you read it, try reading it with only about 40% vision and high on pain meds! I could not remember anything. That's why I had to re-read it.

Belle Wong said...

The Strange Library is in my to-read list - I've not read Murakami other than a short story or two, so I'm looking forward to it. The Silent Land sounds intriguing!

Diane D said...

I like The Strange Library (audio), but yes, indeed strange.

literaryfeline said...

If I get The Strange Library, I will definitely be getting a print copy just because I've heard such great things about how it's formatted. :-)


I want to read Coraline, but haven't yet. And I have a copy of Kafka on the Shore. I haven't yet read anything by Murakami; I find his books kind of intimidating.


If you like strange books, may I recommend The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall? It's not one I recommend to everyone because it is a bit different, but I enjoyed it.

Sam_TinyLibrary said...

I enjoyed The Strange Library too. The UK cover is completely different, I wonder if the contents of the book are the same, in terms of illustrations?
I really liked Life of Pi, but the ending frustrated me!

iliana said...

I love books that are almost like art pieces. I'll have to look for this one. I've had some hits and misses with Murakami. Loved Sputnik Sweetheart and Norwegian Wood but I read a short story collection and that was strange. For strange books I really have to be in the mood. I think one of the strangest books I read The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz.. it was like a puzzle!

Lisa Sheppard said...

I had The Strange Library in my hands the other night but then I looked at the pile I already had and put it back. But I soooo want it!

Athira / Aths said...

I will have to check those two books! They sound very strange and intriguing! I hope you enjoy The Silent Land if you do read it - it was one of my favorites two years ago.

Athira / Aths said...

Collector's piece is the right term for The Strange Library! It's pretty hard not to buy it even if you didn't want to read Murakami.

Athira / Aths said...

The Strange Library is also more a short story than a full-length novel. It was pretty good - so I hope you enjoy it.

Athira / Aths said...

I should give the audio a try. I find it hard to listen to strange books, so this will be interesting.

Athira / Aths said...

The Raw Shark Texts sounds interesting. It sort of reminds me of Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson. Hopefully, it if very different from that one.

Athira / Aths said...

Good point - I wonder if the illustrations were similar. Hope so - I would hate to miss something in a book because the editions are different.

Athira / Aths said...

I will have to check The Street of Crocodiles - it sounds very good, I haven't heard of it before. I haven't read much Murakami, and while I generally enjoy his books, weeks later, I end up wishing there was some logic to the craziness.

Athira / Aths said...

It is a very short book - you'll be done in one sitting. Maybe 30-45 minutes. Let me know what you think of it, if you get to it. :-)

literaryfeline said...

The two are very different from one another. (I read Before I Go to Sleep this weekend just to be sure--but yes, definitely not similar books.)

Athira / Aths said...

Once again, thanks so much for reading Before I Go to Sleep! Raw Shark Texts is on my wishlist!