THE STRANGE LIBRARY is a thoughtfully designed and illustrated repackaging of a 2008 Haruki Murakami short story, previously available only in Japanese. It begins with an inquisitive and unnamed narrator who visits the library to return some books and find out more about tax collection in the Ottoman Empire. Greeted by an old, cranky librarian, a peculiar sequence of events leaves our young protagonist locked up in the library’s basement with instructions to read three selected tomes so that the old man can feast on his brain. After all, “brains packed with knowledge are yummy.” Allied by a ‘sheep man’ and a mysterious mute girl, the boy plans his escape; but nothing’s ever as simple as that.
Suzanne Dean helmed the UK adaptation, on which this review is based, and embraced the library conceit on the cover, while adopting a vintage style for its interior. The graphics respond literally to Murakami’s prose, often colliding; but the transition is never jarring. The narrative flows seamlessly throughout, even when the relationship between the text and the illustration isn’t immediately apparent.
Flourished with Murakami’s deceptively simple prose and brimming with imagination, THE STRANGE LIBRARY leaves readers questioning what’s real and what’s not. The author is not decisive about the novel’s occurrences; it’s up to the reader to decide. And thanks Suzanne Dean’s intriguing interpretation, there’s plenty of reason to revisit this short story again.