Book review: The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami - odd but enjoyable

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 January, 2015, 10:41pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 January, 2015, 10:41pm

The Strange Library
by Haruki Murakami

Grant Snider once drew a "Murakami Bingo" cartoon for The New York Times that allowed readers to track Japanese author Haruki Murakami's idiosyncrasies and recurring motifs: mysterious woman, ear fetish, unexpected phone call, dried-up well, feeling of being followed, urban ennui, cats, old jazz records, running, secret passageway, train station, weird sex, parallel worlds, cooking, Tokyo at night, vanishing cats, supernatural powers and precocious teenager.

The Strange Library, featuring design and illustrations by Chip Kidd, includes many of Murakami's obsessions. The dryly funny, concise fable has all the hallmarks of his deadpan magic, along with some Grimm and Lewis Carroll. It's about a boy who stops at the library on his way home from school only to find himself trapped in the building's labyrinthine corridors. There he meets fantastical creatures such as the beautiful mute girl who serves him tea and a tormented "sheep man" who helps him plot his escape.

Readers first met the sheep man in A Wild Sheep Chase (published in Japan in 1982, in English in 1989), a novel about one man's quest to find a sheep with a star-shape pattern on his flank. That book marked Murakami's American debut and signalled, said reviewers at the time, the arrival of an author we all needed to pay attention to. Murakami is super-hot now, following publication last year of his bestselling Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, as well as his front-runner status for the Nobel Prize in literature.

The Strange Library is a place-holder until his publishers can render another of his more substantial works into English, an endeavour that has provided full-time work for translators, especially with 1Q84, his 2011, 944-page novel. It seems Murakami, at age 65, is hitting his stride, literally (a distance runner, he's logged at least one marathon a year since taking up running at age 33).

The Strange Library is the perfect trip down the rabbit hole for the Murakami lover.