Wednesday, 2 April 2014

A loan again

I need to define a new literary genre, so if anyone has the postal address of the executive in charge of such matters, I'd be grateful if they would share this information; (I'm quite sure this is too sombre a procedure to be conducted by e-mail).  The genre in question is - and, yes, I fully realise it is in need of somewhat snappier nomenclature - 'Quite Short Books About Libraries'.

I've already mentioned in these blog pages, albeit in passing, the excellent The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, in which Her Majesty is stirred to bibliophilia by the accidental discovery of a mobile library van in the grounds of Buckingham Palace. To swell the genre by 100%, I've just finished reading The Library of Unrequited Love, by Sophie Divry, which comprises a monologue by a disaffected, hopelessly lovelorn female French librarian (in France), delivered to a library user who has (apparently) been locked into the library overnight. This is a charming and piquant amouse-bouche, 'though not without a pleasing insight into and compassion for the human spirit when it is shackled by the routine frustrations of work and love. The narrator offers us various descriptions, eulogies and diatribes - some of which directly contradict others - concerning, among other subjects: the Dewey Decimal system; the internal politics of provincial French libraries and the major figures in French military and political history.  The Librarian's mixture of irascibility and erudition is beautifully captured (by the translator and, I assume, the author before that) and - when she turns to the titular theme (represented by an attractive young male student) - comically poignant.

Running through the Librarian's delivery is a passionate love for books and libraries, often comically couched in her own very Gallic brand of hyperbole and metaphor...

The reader is a virgin. . . And I like to see people losing their library virginity. . If the librarian comes charging at you like a bull, no kindness, no foreplay, that's it. You'll never come back. Divorced from culture. Lifelong abstinence. and one could certainly find worse rallying-calls for the defence of libraries, as places of cultural and social necessity, than this little book and its quirky protagonist.

This first novel is a surprising, unusual and satisfying read, like many I've collected from, and returned to my local library (the quite splendid Hitchin public lending emporium), whose staff I may never see in quite the same light again.  In the meantime, your suggestions for additions to this genre of two would be most welcome.

Recommended for: Librarians; Francophiles; people with very limited leisure time and dislikers of crowd scenes.

No comments:

Post a Comment