Murakami and a world of metaphors


Murakami and a world of metaphors

What lies behind the strangeness of Haruki Murakami’s recently re-released The Strange Library? You decide…

By Enid Parker - Senior Sub Editor

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Published: Fri 17 Apr 2015, 9:40 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 7:47 PM

The realm of Haruki Murakami introduces readers to something beyond the obvious, and sometimes, beyond one’s scope of imagination. There is a recurrent theme of loneliness in his works, which rears its head once again in The Strange Library.

Murakami’s American publisher recently put out a stand-alone edition of the 2008 novella, in a new trade paperback designed by Chip Kidd, who has been designing Murakami covers for years.

The new illustrations add a degree of extra strangeness to a decidedly eerie tale — a sinister greenish eye, a big bug, a cruel old man. But then again, whether you find the tale eerie, compelling, or just another one of Murakami’s indulgences, depends on your state of mind. What’s impossible to ignore however, is the hypnotic quality of his writing, which draws you in so deeply, you end up becoming a part of the strange library yourself.

I like to believe I know what Murakami is talking about when he sends a young bibliophile through a maze of corridors in the basement of a city’s public library, towards his apparent doom.

But the truth is I don’t. Having read The Strange Library twice over, I’m still wondering what exactly to make of it.

The story begins innocuously enough, with a boy evidently fond of reading, returning some books to a library. Upon asking for new books, he is directed to room 107 where he meets a stern and pushy old man (a metaphor for authority figures in life perhaps?) who sends him deep into the basement of the library, where he ends up becoming imprisoned.

I had a couple of questions at this point — he’s obviously never been to room 107 before. So, why did the librarian direct him there without even asking for the names of the books he wanted? He obviously must have asked for books before, and the librarian must obviously have found them.

But what I’ve learned over a period of time spent devouring novels like Norwegian Wood and Sputnik Sweetheart is that it is pointless questioning Murakami, or expecting the obvious and a neat conclusion. So we just play along. If his characters are behaving oddly and things don’t add up, there is definitely a very good reason behind it. Don’t hold your breath for the famously reclusive author to clear your doubts though.

In an imaginary interview, he tells me to draw my own conclusions.

The story itself could be a metaphor for life, and how it binds us with its restrictions. But are some of these restrictions self-imposed? These are the questions that come to mind when you begin reading The Strange Library.

If the boy hadn’t been prone to taking orders (as a lot of us are in life), if he hadn’t been literally threatened into going down to the basement, he could have escaped imprisonment.

The unpredictability of existence is also an element at play here, as a character with a seemingly straightforward life ends up in an increasingly bizarre situation, where he meets people who may or may not be real.

While bizarre is commonplace in real life, imaginary acquaintances are not, and we wonder if Murakami is doing all this just to reinforce his trademark theme of loneliness.

Whatever be the reasoning behind The Strange Library, you may come to the conclusion that it’s best to just wallow in its weirdness. Books, like life, don’t always have to make sense.

More news from