'The Strange Library' Is a Kid's Book, despite Murakami's Reliance on Allegories, Semiotics, Parables, and More

By Lewis, Peter | The Christian Science Monitor, December 2, 2014 | Go to article overview

'The Strange Library' Is a Kid's Book, despite Murakami's Reliance on Allegories, Semiotics, Parables, and More


Lewis, Peter, The Christian Science Monitor


Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Perrault, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Jean Sibelius, Simone de Beauvoir, M. C. Escher, Sigmund Freud, Lewis Carroll, Robert Bloch (that's right, Hitchcock did not write "Psycho"), Edvard Munch, the meanest schoolteacher you can remember, Pan, Richard Feynman, a handful of specters and spooks and shades and demons, a world-famous spelunker, a renowned Manga artist, a coyote, and Edward Gorey walked into a bar. They have been charged with finding a writer for a particular book. They took a table and had a few drinks. A few had more than a few.

"But Knopf said they wanted it to haunt and menace," pleaded Bloch.

"No, Robert," de Beauvoir rolled her eyes. "You can forget about shower scenes. It takes place in a library, pour l'amour de Dieu. Sort of a library, anyway."

"This is supposed to be a book for kids, Robert. Kind of. Although where the dire existentialism is going to fit in is anyone's guess," said Franz Kafka, or would have had he been there. At the moment, he was in Czechoslovakia managing the asbestos factory.

"It certainly makes sense to douse the story with terror, like any fairytale worth its salt," agreed Perrault and the Grimms (the grim Grimms, not the bowdlerized versions).

The ghosts couldn't speak, but they nodded in agreement with what passed for their heads.

"Yes, fear. Fear is key," piped in Mrs. Stoat the schoolteacher, predictably.

Feynman liked the aspects of randomness and chaos.

A rabbit hole - where anything can happen - appealed to the spelunker; borderlands - where everything else can happen - appealed to the coyote.

Pan thought it would be crackerjack if there was a guy dressed as a sheep.

Freud wanted dreams. Enough said.

"And art", said Gorey, Munch, Escher, and the manga woman in unison. "Creepy, spidery, but some Pop, too. And some of those high- velocity cartoons. It's a kid's book ... like"

"Don't forget music, though not Pop-cartoon bouncy." That from Sibelius, never one for the light of heart.

"Okay, then. Pretty obvious. Get Haruki on the phone."

"Hey, it's flowing like molasses around here. Where's the barkeep?" demanded Poe.

Welcome, hopefully once again, to Murakamiland: sheep men, waifs, quests, attentiveness to little (odd) things, a labyrinth, a stairway down ("Long enough, it seemed, to reach Brazil," notes the young protagonist, which may not be good - no offense to Brazil), absurdity and irrationality, the tension between the fantastical and the everyday, real and unreal, sadness and loss, then sudden shifts out of the blue, and plenty of the plain runic.

The Strange Library is a kid's book, no matter how many allegories, semiotics, characteries, parables, and paradiddles you drape on its shoulders. Ninety-six pages don't make it a kid's book, necessarily, even with the full-page, color artwork. It's a kid's book that happens to plumb the kind of questions that leave us all wishing for more room to breathe: the singular and ever-solitary individual - "The sheep man has his world. I have mine. And you have yours.... [E]ach treads his own path," - the loss of identity (for better or worse), groping in the dark, self-understanding in an unknowable world, the dignity of idiosyncrasies.

The narrator, an adolescent boy, drops into his neighborhood library to return some books. He is a frequenter of the library, so he notices when the woman at the front desk is unfamiliar. …

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