The Library of Unrequited Love – Sophie Divry
Translated from the French La Cote 400 by Siân Reynolds
MacLehose Press, February 2013
Review copy courtesy of the publisher
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One morning, the librarian responsible for the Geography section in the basement of the library of a provincial town finds a reader who was locked in overnight. As the library is not opening yet, she invites him to sit down and drink a cup of the coffee she brought to work. While he does so she starts a monologue that contains observations on the library, glimpses of the life she has lived, and an outpouring of frustrations and suggestions about the state of the library, reading, and the world outside.
The Library of Unrequited Love was a joy to read because it contains so much love for books and reading. It includes reflections on libraries, on the lot of librarians, on the encroaching of other media outlets and the possible role of libraries in this landscape..
But there is more to The Library of Unrequited Love than just that. There is the picture of an introverted woman who wants to talk to people and yet does not know how to accomplish that, there is a frustration over hierarchies and the politics of class and gender that makes the librarian exclaim at one point that we might as well not have had a revolution two hundred years ago (meaning, the French revoluion), there are short diversions into what makes history, and why some subjects are ranked higher than others, and if classification is ever really justified.
The conversational tone brings home that this outpouring of thoughts and feelings are those of one person, while at the same time they concern themes that are more generally being discussed in society. There were times when I wanted to argue with the librarian, and there were times when I wanted to enthusiastically say yes and nod along. There were definitely moments when I smiled or giggled.
The Library of Unrequited Love is a monologue, but it asks you to engage with it. At times, you see the librarian responding to how the overnight guest is responding to her trail of thoughts. This helps to bring home that this is not truth but opinion and that the reader is allowed to smile or disagree just like the fictional listener is doing. It is funny how at one point the librarian mentions that books always ask for engagement and therefore do not make you feel alone. In the end, I think that this is exactly what the book does, in a cozy, not all that challenging, and humorous way:
“When I’m reading, I’m never alone, I have a conversation with the book. It can be very intimate. Perhaps you know this 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.”
The Library of Unrequited Love may not quite stay with me for weeks on end, but it is a warmhearted, and almost cute, excursion into the thoughts and feelings of one imaginary librarian, that makes you think, and love, and disagree, and probably recognise some of her love and protectiveness of books and reading.
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