Haruki Murakami’s “The Strange Library” is a short story, not a novel. So why, one might wonder, has it been published as a single volume? Reading the story, two answers suggest themselves. The first is that, though it is short — 58 loosely printed pages of text — Murakami manages to endow those pages with all that we have come to expect from his more leviathan tomes. This account of a lad being held prisoner in a labyrinth beneath his neighborhood library, being forced to memorize the contents of three volumes on Ottoman tax collection, and being threatened with having his brains eaten, together with the presence of a sheep man, and also intrusions from a world as mundane as our own — a mother preparing dinner at home, a new pair of leather shoes — has all that any Murakami fan would want. There’s no need to surround it with other stories.
The second reason why “The Strange Library” has likely been published as a single volume is to give space for Chip Kidd’s book design and illustrations — there are about as many pages of pictures as there are of text — which seem so essential that, having experienced Murakami’s story in this version, one can hardly imagine it in any other form.
As with most works of art, “The Strange Library” — realized by Knopf as more of a book object than a short story — deserves to stand alone.
It’s only fair to warn book lovers, particularly the kind given to carrying “I’m a Reader!” bags, that Murakami’s “Library” is not the warm and fuzzy place that they might have hoped for. Darkness runs through it, framed by mystery, and wonder.