Title: The Library of Unrequited Love
Author: Sophie Divry (translated from the French by Siân Reynolds)
Publisher: Maclehose Press
Format: Paperback (92 pages)
Synopsis: One morning a librarian finds a reader who has been locked in overnight. She begins to talk to him, a one-way conversation full of sharp insight and quiet courage. As she rails against snobbish senior colleagues, an ungrateful and ignorant public, the strictures of the Dewey Decimal System and the sinister expansionist conspiracies of the books themselves, two things shine through: her unrequited passion for a researcher named Martin, and an ardent and absolute love of the arts.
I was drawn to this book for two reasons: one because of the really cool cover illustration, and two because of the interesting concept. This book is a soliloquy, meaning that the entire novel is a dialogue spoken by only one character. We never know her name, or what she looks like, yet we learn so much about her from the one-sided conversation she has with the unnamed reader. Thanks to Shakespeare I’m aware of the emotional power of the soliloquy, so I was intrigued as to how this would work in a novel format rather than a drama. I was concerned that the book might become monotonous as it is effectively a stream of consciousness with no chapter breaks, or even paragraphs. Thankfully, I found this wasn’t the case. Although I did get irritated at times, I was never bored.
The librarian is an interesting character. She is a very anxious person who relies on keeping order in her life, particularly via organising the books by the Dewey Decimal System. She feels invisible and resents those around her who don’t pay her any attention. When I think about how the novel made me feel about her, I’m conflicted. Sometimes I felt empathy for her, and could relate to her struggles, but other times I was annoyed because she never makes any attempt to help herself or reach out to those around her. She is rather snobbish and superior when it comes to those she calls “zombies” and “wasters” who walk around with earphones in staring at their phones, as if they would never think of picking up a book. That being said, she makes no apologies for her bluntness and openly acknowledges her failings, which I found very refreshing.
One thing I am certainly not conflicted about is Divry’s skills in characterisation. Despite there being no descriptions in the book to help me visualise the librarian (apart from the cover illustration), I found that she had a strong presence and I could imagine what her facial expressions looked like and the haughty tone of her voice. As I said, there are no paragraphs or logical places to stop, which makes it hard to put down if you want to take a break. When I did need to do this, I almost felt guilty, like I was interrupting her. After all, how dare I be one of those “zombies” and answer a message on my mobile phone? When I picked up the book again and continued to read, I imagined her saying something sarcastic like “oh, so you deigned to come back, did you?” That’s how real this character became to me.
She is above all, a lover of books and knowledge, which I can certainly relate to. I love the way she describes this passion:
“When I’m reading, I’m never alone. I have a conversation with the book. It can be very intimate. Perhaps you know the feeling yourself? The sense that you’re having an intellectual exchange with the author, following his or her train of thought, and you can accompany each other for weeks on end.” p.23.
“Book and reader, if they meet up at the right moment in a person’s life, it can make sparks fly, set you alight, change your life.” p.65.
I changed my mind several times about how I felt about this book while I was reading it. There’s a peculiar charm about it that I can’t really explain. This woman is either afraid or dismissive of so many things, which I expected to get on my nerves, but the pace of the book pulled me along and I felt like I just wanted to let her keep talking. Even though she is speaking to the unnamed reader in the library, I felt like she was talking directly to me. There were occasions when she revealed something about herself, almost by accident, which could have embarrassed her, but instead she’s very matter of fact about it and charges through, perhaps hoping you either won’t notice or won’t care. I can’t say I found her to be a very likable character, but she is certainly interesting and has an endearing vulnerability about her which makes her very relatable.
If you are interested in different styles of storytelling and characterisation, then I would definitely recommend checking out this book. It’s not very long, and can be easily read in one sitting.
Overall Rating: My bookworm rating system is explained here.
Other Works by this Author: This is Sophie Divery’s debut novel.