Never The Silence Of The Book
Tip to the worldly traveler on a tight budget: when visiting France, don’t ever attempt to save a buck or two by sleeping in a local library overnight, because if you do, when you awaken the next morning, refreshed and ready to be on your way, you may discover that there is no quick escape to be had from the librarian whose section you slumbered in. She might be a middle-aged spinster. She might be more than a little bitter. She might have a heck of a lot to say, and you my friend, may find yourself with no recourse but to sit there and take it all in because the library isn’t officially open yet and she can’t—nay—she won’t, let you leave before partaking in a friendly chinwag. The only thing though? You’ll never get a word in edgewise.
The nameless librarian in Sophie Divry’s debut novel is just such a woman. And over the course of 96 pages she delivers a stunning, single chapter, single paragraph monologue to the poor sod who dared to spend the night dozing in the geography section of the library’s basement, which is of course, her area of responsibility. The Library of Unrequited Love is the kind of book book lovers love best, one that’s written for them and them alone, one that they’ll want to highlight, circle, and underline passages from, one that lovingly begins “To all those men and women who will always find a place for themselves in a library more easily than in society, I dedicate this entertainment.” Yes, you the reader are expected to play the role of the helpless listener, but quite honestly there’s no place on Earth that you’d rather be.1
Because this woman—I’ll call her Librariana to make things easier on myself—because Librariana knows a lot about the Dewey Decimal System, world history, literature, language, writers, and libraries and she certainly isn’t afraid to impart this wealth of knowledge onto the unsuspecting patron (that would be you, the reader), but it’s more than just factual tidbits and random fun facts she’s passing along, because, did I mention, she’s strongly opinionated, a wee bit bitter, middle-aged and alone, and as the title would suggest, pining for man who barely knows that she exists? Ah yes, this combustible combination of character traits certainly seems primed to explode, and when it does, both pure madness and pure joy ensues.
Have you never thought about it? What kind of literature is going to be produced in a society where there are no wars or epidemics or revolutions? I’ll tell you what: badly written novels about nice girls and boys falling in love, who make each other suffer without meaning to, and spend all their time crying and saying they’re sorry. Ridiculous. You should never say you’re sorry.2
She contradicts herself from time to time as she complains about the library’s well intentioned patrons, her undeserving co-workers, the brilliant yet hopelessly flawed Dewey Decimal system and the failings of modern technology, but all these personal pieces that are sprinkled throughout make her diatribe come to life, make it sparkle, make it shine. In fact, the more passionately unhinged she becomes, the more delightful it is to play the game of connecting the dots from one object of her scorn to the next. There is a spot of hopefulness in there as well however, because it turns out that our Librariana has the hots for a researcher named Martin who frequents the tables in her section. Oh if only he’d talk to her.
Well he did, once, but it didn’t really amount to much. It’s the unwinding of the unrequited portion of Librariana’s tale that balances out her love of literature and knowledge, exposes her vulnerabilities, and speaks directly to the human condition. Never alone, surrounded by thousands of books and hundreds of patrons a day, Librariana is still an isolated soul, one that is lonely and desperate to make even a single meaningful connection in the world. In the end, she is us, the reader, we come to recognize her struggles and her truths within ourselves. She finally manages to form that bond she so fiercely desires to have with another person, yet sadly we’re powerless to speak back to her, to comfort her, to give her any indication that her words have captivated us, that her story has inspired us, that we’re more similar then we could have ever imagined possible at the start of her tale.3
The Library of Unrequited Love is a slim volume that you shouldn’t allow to get lost in your massive to-read stack. Pull this one out, set aside an hour or two, and devour it in one sitting. The act of reading may be a solitary experience, but you’ll never feel alone within the pages of this particular, peculiar, and pleasant little book.
1Unless of course you’re Kayne West, but if you were, why would you ever set foot in a library in the first place?
2Apparently Love Story is her favorite novel?
3Your personal brand of crazy may vary slightly.