Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami (trans. by Ted Goossen)

SLThe critical acclaim and the cult following of Haruki Murakami in this country is such that the front cover of The Strange Library that only Murakami’s surname is required. Also on the front cover is one of those pockets that used to adorn library books when you still had paper tickets to slip inside them, covered in stamped (and the odd hand-written) return date: 02. OCT 10… 14. MAR 11…2 DEC 2014…

This novella starts with a boy going into the library on the way home from school because he had been wandering along thinking about how taxes were collected in the Ottoman Empire. If that sounds like a strange thing for a child to be contemplating on his walk home, then prepare yourself. This is probably the most “normal” thing that happens in the book.


The peculiar old man behind the desk leads him through a maze of rooms until finally, the boy is locked in a cell where he is instructed to read three large volumes (on tax collecting in the Ottoman Empire), memorize them, and – in a month – pass a test set by the man. The boy is occasionally visited by a sheep man who makes incredible doughnuts, and a young woman who talks with her hands. The boy is scared. His mum will be waiting for him! And what’s even worse, the sheep man has told him that the old man never intends to let him go. Rather, the man will eat the boy’s brain:

“Mr Sheep Man,” I asked, “why would that old man want to eat my brains?”

“Because brains packed with knowledge are yummy, that’s why. They’re nice and creamy. And sort of grainy at the same time.”

The Strange Library is… well… strange. It’s a nightmarish fairy tale, easy to read but difficult to digest (unlike knowledge-packed brains, apparently). It’s a one sitting sort of a book, under 100 pages with the text spaced out between large illustrations. The physical book is a beauty to behold, and as much as I love my e-reader, I implore you all to make sure you read this book in its physical form. The colours are vibrant, the illustrations veer between the weird, the disturbing, and the beautiful (much like the story itself), and you genuinely have no idea what you’ll find when you turn the page. The illustrations become part of the story itself, like this:


If you are new to Murakami’s work, then this might be a good place to start. It’s got everything his longer novels have, the traditional story-telling with added weirdness, albeit in a smaller, tighter, prettier form. And while an RRP of £9.99 may feel like a lot for such a short book, I think it’s worth it for the attention that have been lavished on the final, physical product. Although it might make you a little more circumspect about visiting that old library…

Haruki Murakami (trans. Ted Goossen): The Strange Library (London: Harvill Secker, 2014) ISBN 9780846559211 RRP £9.99

One comment on “The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami (trans. by Ted Goossen)

  1. Jackie
    June 15, 2015

    But does the boy ever escape the room? I can see how the boy would be thinking of the Ottoman Empire if it’s something he learned in school that day, I recall a teacher mentioning something such as the children’s crusade and the curiosity about it would fill my brain for the rest of the day. Wonder if that was the germ for this story?
    While it sounds a bit too scary for wimpy me, I do like the way you’ve described the physical book, that sounds terrific and a way to expand the story. Thanks for this review of a book i wish i was brave enough to read.

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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