Perhaps we shouldn’t judge books by their covers, but there is something more than gratifying about a good book which is also beautifully produced. In this series I want to celebrate books that do this, looking at both the exquisite aesthetics but also the merit of the content beneath the pretty cover. As high production values in print publishing see a resurgence in the face of the e-reader threat, Haruki Murakami’s The Strange Library, translated from the original Japanese by Ted Goossen, stands as a prime example of the intriguing creations that are coming out of this trend.
The Strange Library first lured me in when I found it nestled on a book shop shelf around Christmas. It’s pink-purple cover was striking even amongst the plethora of other material, but on further inspection it was the seeming authenticity of the library check-out ticket pocket on the cover that really sold me. I’m a child of libraries, so this was bound to attract my attention. Murakami’s book isn’t just attractive on the outside though. When you crack it open you realise this is a volume overflowing with illustrations, interesting typefaces, and stylistic choices that play with the form of an illustrated children’s story and delight in intriguing the reader. This is a delightful book even to just flip through because of the diversity and intricacy of the illustrations; I felt that I wanted to copy some of the pages and stick them up on my wall which, if you’d seen how little space I have left in my bedroom, really is a very high commendation. But when you are viewing the images alongside the narrative you realise the interesting relationship between the two. The illustrations pick out a certain element of the story, no matter how small, and depict this, as opposed to showing action scenes of the book’s events. This works very effectively, creating something far more interesting to ponder than the more simplistic route would have resulted in.
As mentioned previously The Strange Library plays with the traditional children’s story, and the end result is a tale that’s tinged with darkness in a way that would still appeal to kids– the jailer who delivers our protagonist perfect doughnuts whilst still imprisoning him seems reminiscent of something in a Lemony Snicket novel. But behind this there is always a sense that something bigger is being questioned and commented upon, and the simplistic nature of the narrative actually encouraged deeper thinking far more than some complicated pieces of literature do. The ease of reading allows space for thought, especially reading this amidst the glut of dense critical essays that make up quite a proportion of an English Literature degree.
This was a memorable read, and it certainly convinced me that Murakami’s other works need to stay on my to-read list. Whilst I’m sure Murakami can offer far more in a full length novel, this was a wonderful insight and a lovely book to own and revisit.