The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami, translated by Ted Goossen (Knopf, 96 pages)
That's what I was thinking while starting this latest from one of the masters of bizarro fiction, and that's what I thought after I finished it. WUT. WAS. THAT.
But what's this odd, beautifully-illustrated, small book that you can read in half an hour actually about? Um, ok- so a teen-aged boy goes to the library to return some books and check out some new ones. For some reason, he absolutely has to know about taxation in the Ottoman Empire. Yup. So he returns the books and is then whisked down a million twisty corridors by a scary old librarian dude, and locked in a cell. The old dude says the boy is a prisoner until he reads all of the massive books on Ottoman taxation and repeats them word-for-word back to the dude.
While locked up, the boy is visited by a "sheep-man" (who may or may not be a regular person wearing a sheep costume, but it's probably the latter) who brings him food and plots an escape route. And then there's a mysterious girl who can make herself translucent.
We see everything from the boy's perspective, and often he seems unsurprised by such things as a man wearing a sheep costume or a librarian locking him in a basement. He's angry, of course, and keeps worrying that his mother will worry about him, but he does accept his situation with a strange degree of calm. I could go all psychoanalytical on this book, reading the continuous references to the narrator's mother and the labyrinthine passages as indications of anxiety about origins and narratives and escapes and identity, but I'm not going to go there.
Bottom line: if, for instance, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle rocked your world, you'll love The Strange Library.