Sunday 17 August 2014

Unrequited love

'The Library of Unrequited Love' by Sophie Divry
This was a lovely little novella, a monologue by a lonely librarian who arrives at work to discover someone unintentionally locked overnight in the library. 

I found myself picturing the hapless man, it had to be a man, probably elderly, as he sat, initially bemused and trapped, but gradually relaxing back in the armchair with his thermos coffee (that she provides for him) and letting her ideas wash over him. There aren't any apparent interruptions to her flow as she meanders through every subject under the sun. What I loved was the way it was a picture of how the human mind works, and how it makes its own connections between ideas and information. Julie wrote a lovely post yesterday on the subject of random learning and how you can't make someone find a particular thing interesting, or make them learn it, or control what someone learns from a situation, and this book felt like a fantastic example of real human learning. The librarian talks, and although her talk has a superficial feel of being random and meaningless if you pay attention there are links between everything she says, one thing leads to the next ... and this is how learning happens for children (and adults of course but we are often so busy doing other stuff we don't notice our learning any more). So starting predictably with the Dewey Decimal System we do a quick run through the history of libraries. History is her aspiration (though she is stuck in the geography section) so her talk takes in the French Revolution to Napoleon ("that uncivilised little runt") to Durkheim to Eugène Morel and then Simone de Beauvoir

And running through the talk is her passion for a young man who comes to the library to work on his dissertation, who she adores from afar. I felt like he was symbolic of her desire to be noticed, acknowledged, valued, by someone and by society, but his real physical presence created this lovely moment;

"I was sitting at my desk. He was sitting at a table, where he'd been working for about half an hour. It was quiet. The sky was grey. I didn't have any coffee left. Then suddenly Martin put the cap back on his pen, closed his book, stood up and walked over to me, with his calm movements and his long legs. I saw him coming, I looked up at hime (not too fast, not to let him think I had been waiting for him), he stopped at my desk, leaned forward slightly (I wonder why, perhaps he thinks I'm deaf), I could see his shirt close up, light-blue stripes, I even picked up a hint of aftershave, a very subtle one, he was right there and he asked, oh nothing much, but so politely put, and anyway, it was me he asked, even though that morning my history colleague was there, in his soft voice he said: 'Excuse me, Madame, but would it be possible to have a little more light?' " (p.57)

She sees libraries as both a place for the unloved and the unwanted:

"They're not really readers. They wander about. To the magazine corner, then to Literature. They come down here so as not to be noticed. They pretend to read. They don't make a noise, they just look for some little spot and hope everyone will forget about them. Sometimes, if they land an armchair, they drop off to sleep, poor things. I do feel a lot of sympathy for them. I call them the 'central heating refugees'." (p.59)

but also the place that offers magic:

"Book and reader, if they meet up at the right moment in a person's life, it can make sparks fly, set you alight, change your life." (p.65)

"Spiritually we can at last fill the terrible emptiness that makes us just worms creeping on this earth. Those endless bookshelves reflect back to us an ideal image, the image of the full range of the human mind. Then all paths are made plain, everything's newly created once more, and we move closer to a mystical vision of Abundance. The inexhaustible milk of human culture, right here, within our reach. Help yourself, it's free. Borrow, because as much as accumulation of material things impoverishes the soul, cultural abundance enriches it." (p.67)

So a monologue in praise of libraries as much as a love story, and I am all in favour of libraries. A lovely understated little book that you could read in an afternoon.


  1. Sounds like a great book to check out. Thanks for the wonderful review!

  2. what a cool premise and structure behind the book
    the random connections...because i love to do that...
    finding the hidden patterns in life and thought...
    will check this one out

  3. This sounds like a fun book. I think I might enjoy being locked in a good library overnight. If I can keep a reading light on, that is.


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