Haruki Murakami’s Strange Library

Haruki Murakami, The Strange Library (2008, translation by Ted Goossen, Harvill Secker 2014)

1846559219I received this as a Christmas gift, and I’m pretty sure that’s what the publishers had in mind.

Tucked away on the imprint page is a credit to Suzanne Dean as designer with a copyright symbol next to her name, and that is just as it should be. The library record pocket glued to the front cover is just the beginning. As one reads the book, almost every page offers a little (or big) design surprise: gorgeous illustrations (many of tangential relevance to the text), to the illusion of different paper stocks, simulated water damage, clumsily stamped page numbers. You can never forget that you are dealing with a book as physical object. I haven’t been been as entranced by a book design since Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore’s The Medium Is the Massage.

The creep, scary, dream-logical story of a boy who is imprisoned in a labyrinth beneath a library until he can memorise four thick books about taxation in the Ottoman Empire reads like Murakami’s version of a children’s story. If it had crossed my desk when editing The School Magazine, I probably would have voted to include it in our list of recommended books ‘for advanced readers’, though I would have understood if I’d been voted down because of some deliciously scary threats that the boy faces.

As it is, it’s a brief, pleasant diversion for adults as well as whoever else might find it.

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