Translated by Siân Reynolds, this short French novel is an amusing soliloquy in the voice of a librarian. She finds someone who has been locked in overnight, and variously scolds, enlightens and lectures them on literature, subject hierarchies, book classification, and her secret crush. Stuck in the Geography section in the basement, she wishes to been allowed to work on History or Literature.
Here’s my favourite passage: ‘To know your way around a library is to master the whole culture, i.e. the whole world.’ As with previous best-sellers, I intend to tell you what I thought of it through the incisive prompts of the ‘Reading Group Questions’, which have be so thoughtfully provided in the back pages.
1. What did you think of the fact that the person found in the library is never named or described? Did you imagine the librarian was talking to you, or did you have a picture in your head of the listener? For some reason, I felt she was talking to a male person, so no, I didn’t feel like she was talking to me, despite the lovely use of second person throughout. I think it’s a great device, as essentially the person is anonymous to her too, which is why she feels she can monologue freely.
2. Did you understand the librarian’s infatuation with Martin? Do you think she will ever speak to him about her feelings? Martin is a man who comes in regularly. All she knows about him is what he reads. It’s rather romantic, but essentially a flight of fancy. She will never speak to him: she is too shy, and it could shatter her imaginary ideal of him, which I think she sometimes enjoys. For example, she refers to a chair he never sits in as ‘Martin’s chair’ as that’s where she would like him to be. It’s a more satisfying image than the reality could ever be.
3. What do you think of the library as the setting of a love story, unrequited or otherwise? I think it’s charming. There are the clues to their personalities in the books they’re looking at; the stolen glances across the quiet study room; the light repartee that can be sparked by literature. There’s nothing more attractive than a firm grasp of the Dewey Decimal System. If I had a pound for every time someone asked me out in a library, I’d have £1.75.
4. The librarian has mixed feelings about her confinement to the Geography section. Which sections of the library would you never visit? I’m not very enamoured with local history; there seems to be a vast section of that, presumably due to the kind donations of local authors, who don’t realise that five other people have already written a guide to the history of cycle paths in their village. Food also fails to excite me. That said, I’m always open to suggestions.
I very much enjoyed all ninety-two pages of this witty and clever musing verging on diatribe. Have you read it? What did you think? Which sections of the library do you never visit? Comments please!