The axiom to ‘never judge a book by its cover’ cannot be held entirely true for ‘The Strange Library’. Haruki Murakami’s new novella is striking: the lime green cover, stamped with the name ‘MURAKAMI’, features only a faded pink library slip. Even the blurb has been replaced by the typically ominous phrase: ‘All I did was go to the library to borrow some books’.
Murakami defies genres with ‘The Strange Library’, and it’s hard to gauge whether this is a novel with pictures or a picture book with words. The book is like a museum, a glass cabinet of library relics: the familiar red return-dates stamps, labels reading ‘For Internal Use Only’, or ‘File Copy: Not to Be Removed’. Murakami takes these mundane artefacts and makes them a novelty, and by incorporating them into his narrative he defies expectations of what a novel should look like. Parts of it almost read like poetry: on a full-page etched illustration reads:
door was as
dark as if
a hole had
The illustrations, too, have echoes of a museum, containing varying species of animals, insects and other general oddities. Some look as though they’ve been taken straight from natural history books, and so the novel is layered even further in a collage-like collection of words, objects and pictures. Like the boy lost in the labyrinth, the illustrations distract and draw you away from the story, down different paths, where you enjoy their beauty before returning back to the main story.
In defiance of the bland eBook, ‘The Strange Library’ is an argument in favour of the paperback. It is art-for-arts-sake: a captivating and aesthetic book that deserves a place in every library.