The Library of Unrequited Love by Sophie Divry

Translated by Sian Reynolds

Libraries, let’s face it, are obviously going to be one of my favourite places…. What book lover is going to love them? So I was delighted to win this little volume from a recent Twitter comp by the lovely people at MacLehose Press. I remember reading about the book when it first came out, and it sounded like it would be my kind of thing – well, it was!

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The book (a novella of just over 91 pages) takes the form of a monologue; our speaker is an unnamed female librarian who one morning finds a reader in her area of the library who’s been locked in overnight. As she can’t let him out for a couple of hours (or so she claims – though there is the suspicion she might just want company!), she begins to talk to him – a one-way conversation that is nevertheless very, very revealing.

The librarian is an intriguing woman, and the conversation ranges over a wide range of topics: the Dewey Decimal system, snobbery amongst librarians, the most coveted sections of the library, the books themselves seeming to want to take over the library, and her one big passion – a young researcher called Martin. As the story continues, the librarian reveals how she came to be working at this particular library, the wrong turnings her life has taken and her outlook on life. There are also many references to Simone de Beauvoir; I think she rather dreams of an intellectual passion with a Sartre-like individual!

TLOUL is a very cleverly written book; although the dialogue is one-sided, it’s never dull and we learn so much about the protagonists feelings and views that we come to know here very well, and to sympathise with her situation. Clearly no longer a spring chicken, it seems she may have lost the chance of a happy personal life. And her emotions sway backwards and forwards during the monologue – particularly with something like the Dewey system; at the beginning of the book she’s singing its praises but as she talks and her guard goes down she ends up railing against its restrictions!

To know your way round a library is to master the whole of culture i.e. the whole world.

Although short, this book is stuffed full of thoughts on life and death, culture and stupidity and the state of the world. The format allows the author and her character to comment on modern life, the homeless and the needy who find shelter in the library, and the ridiculous amount of low-quality mass-market books that flood into bookshops, only to be remaindered:

In September, when the autumn books come out, I see all these stupid titles invading the bookshops, and a few months later they’re on the scrap heap. All the hundreds of books pouring off the presses, ninety-nine per cent of them they’d do better to use the paper for wrapping takeaways.

But the heart of the tale belongs to the librarian herself. Although she claims that when you’re abandoned and have no friends, books can be a great help, there is a terrible pathos in her story and her unrequited love. And in fact the book ends on a cry of sadness, and a claim that all the books in the world are never going to compensate for the unanswered yearnings of the heart.

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“The Library of Unrequited Love” is a surprisingly memorable and though-provoking book and I really recommend it for any book-lover. And many thanks to MacLehose for sending this as I might not have made the acquaintance of the library and its librarian – and I’m very glad I did!

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