Updated: Jul 9, 2021
Book Summary: The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami. A schoolboy stops by a library to inquire about some books—this turns out to be a big mistake!
Genre: Fantasy Fiction, Horror Fiction
Original Language: Japanese
Originally Published: 1983
“The library was even more hushed than usual,” the opening sentence transports the reader to an unnamed city library. A schoolboy stops by on his way home from school to return some library books (How to Build a Submarine and Memoirs of a Shepherd) and inquire for books on his impromptu curiosity: tax collection in the Ottoman Empire. The librarian, who he has never seen before, sends him to an unknown room, “107.”
The boy walks past a gloomy corridor until he enters the destined area. There, he meets an old man—the only person in the entire room! The old man leaves a not-so-good impression on the boy, which is why the boy wishes to slip away from the room, ASAP. But he is forced to memorize three bulky volumes on his requested topic, cover to cover. He is given a month for that, and he can’t leave the library before he completes his task.
The boy thinks of his mother, who’d go crazy worrying that her son hasn’t reached home yet. He is helpless, though. To his worse, a man clad in sheepskin locks him in a secret space (they pass through a never-ending maze of corridors to reach here), which is ghostly dark and appears like a jail cell.
The boy must now commit to by-heart the books he’d asked for, as there’s no other way out of this unwanted suffering. He is hopeful, still—he’ll be free within a month—but sooner the sheepman dismisses his only hope. What really will happen is, the boy will study the books, and when it’s time, the old man will slice the top of the boy’s head and will slurp his brains. Why? Because for the old man, brains packed with knowledge are indeed a yummy treat—nice, creamy, and sometimes grainy.
It frightens the boy, learning of the old man’s wicked desire. He terribly misses his mother, yearning to see her. He also worries about his pet starling that’d be starving by now. When the boy’s world seems to reach a dead-end, there enters a semi-invisible girl who slips between the bars and offers him comfort with a hot meal and a hope that he can escape from the cell with the help of the sheepman.
When the boy discusses with the sheepman, he learns he is tortured by the old man, just like him. Hence, they take a daring decision—to escape the library on a new moon night, when the old man is fast asleep in his room.
In the dark, they take a long route, retreat several times, keep walking without a pause, until they see a door at the end, light leaking through its cracks. Now, they only have to go through this door and they’ll be free. The boy is almost in joy as he will soon go home to his mother, but beyond the room, someone awaits him and the sheep man.
IT IS THE OLD MAN, and it’s the same room he had started off—”107.” Besides him is a big black dog with green eyes and a jewel-encrusted collar. He looks as weird as the old man, and there is the boy’s pet clamped between his teeth.
The sheepman and the boy are shocked. They’re caught red-handed and they understand there’s nothing but death in front of their eyes. Only at this point, there happens another strangest thing. The starling between the dog’s teeth grows until it forces the dog’s jaws open and there is a sound of shattering bones. The starling grows until the size of a bull, and it tells the boy to run away without wasting a moment. What is unusual is the starling speaks in the voice of the invisible girl who’d visit him in the cell.
As the only opportunity in his sight, the boy grabs the sheep man’s hand and rushes outside the library, into the park. He collapses on the lawn, closes his eyes, and lays there gasping for air. When he opens his eyes a while later, the sheepman has disappeared, like an evaporated morning dew.
It is after three nights the boy has returned home, and certainly his mother would be in turmoil, waiting for her son. Contrary to his expectations, the mother acts normal, like there is nothing happened. But, his pet is gone, leaving behind an empty cage.
The boy never goes to that library again, nor he mentions it to anyone.
It’s two o’clock in the morning and the boy is lying in his home, thinking about the cell they trapped him, wondering if the sheep man and the girl really existed. His mother died last Tuesday, suffering from a mysterious illness. He had lost his pet too. Now, there is no one but a pool of darkness lingering in his mind.
The best novelist on the planet ― Observer Murakami is like a magician who explains what he’s doing as he performs the trick and still makes you believe he has supernatural powers . . . But while anyone can tell a story that resembles a dream, it's the rare artist, like this one, who can make us feel that we are dreaming it ourselves ― New York Times Book Review A dark and memorable fairytale about the lingering influence of childhood fears and the isolation of adulthood -- Catherine Kelly ― Cherwell Newspaper If you have an hour to spare one day and want a short, dark fantasy read, The Strange Library is the book to pick up ― We Were Raised By Wolves