I finished reading Haruki Murakami’s short story The Strange Library a couple of weeks ago. It’s an intriguing marriage of Murakami’s trademark magical realism and illustrations collected primarily from the London Library, which evoke and emphasise sections of the prose. The book is far from Murakami’s best, but still contains some dazzling imagery and wondrous excerpts. Below are my favourites from the English hardback published by Harvill Secker.
I knocked. It was just a normal, everyday knock, yet it sounded as if someone had whacked the gates of hell with a baseball bat. It echoed ominously in the corridor. I turned to run, but I didn’t actually take a step, even though I wanted to. That wasn’t the way I was raised. My mother taught me that if you knock on a door, you have to wait there until someone answers.
“Well, well. Here we are,” said the old man. “In you go.”
“In there?” I asked.
“That’s the idea.”
“But it’s pitch black,” I protested. Indeed, inside the door was as dark as if a hole had been pierced in the cosmos.
Why do I act like this, agreeing when I really disagree, letting people force me to do things I don’t want to do?
“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.”
A key turned in the lock, and in came a girl pushing a teacart. She was so pretty that looking at her made my eyes hurt. She appeared to be about my age. Her neck, wrists, and ankles were so slender they seemed as if they might break under the slightest pressure. Her long, straight hair shone as if it were spun with jewels. She studied my face for a moment. Then she took the dishes of food that were on the teacart and arranged them on my desk, all without a word. I remained speechless, overwhelmed by her beauty.
“Please, tell me who you are,” I said.
«I am me, that’s all.»
“But the sheep man said you didn’t exist. And besides—”
The girl raised a finger to her tiny lips. I held my tongue.
«The sheep man has his world. I have mine. And you have yours, too. Am I right?»
“That you are.”
«So just because I don’t exist in the sheep man’s world, it doesn’t mean that I don’t exist at all.»
“I get it,” I said. “Our worlds are all jumbled together — your world, my world, the sheep man’s world. Sometimes they overlap and sometimes they don’t. That’s what you mean, right?”
She gave two small nods.
She didn’t answer. Instead, she came close and planted a small kiss on my cheek. Then she slipped through the door and vanished. I sat there on the bed, dazed, for a long time. The kiss had shaken me up so much I couldn’t think straight. At the same time, my anxiety had turned into an anxiety quite lacking in anxiousness. And any anxiety that is not especially anxious is, in the end, an anxiety hardly worth mentioning.
I lie here by myself in the dark at two o’clock in the morning and think about that cell in the library basement. About how it feels to be alone, and the depth of the darkness surrounding me. Darkness as pitch black as the night of the new moon.