When I was a child, I knew with absolute certainty that Libraries (always with that capital L) were embassies from my true homeland, sanctuaries established by my people to sustain us in an otherwise alien world.
The Library my mother took me to when I was small was in a Victorian gothic building, that felt huge. The Children’s Library was on the ground floor and was entered through an archway that could have given on to cloisters (although I’d never seen cloisters then), Beyond it, like a defensive wall, was a counter, taller than I was, made of dark polished wood. Behind the counter was a Librarian. Someone whose whole mission was to help me find things to read. Could there be anything more magical than that.?
Later, I discovered card catalogues in huge wooden drawer with brass fittings, filled with tiny cards, packed with coded information, left there as a sort of map for people like me. When I was old enough to use the Reference Library Reading Room, I felt I had come home. I was in a different building, a sort of gothic manor house, with mullioned windows that looked out over yew trees and a cemetery. It smelled of old books and wood polish and, in my selective memory, is always filled with dust motes dancing in afternoon sunshine.
I’ve never gotten over the romance of Libraries, even though they’re becoming an endangered species.
With the Libraries closes as part of Lockdown, I thought I’d make a virtual visit to a couple.
‘The Midnight Library’ came out last year and has been sitting on my shelf ever since. ‘The Invisible Library’ has been around for longer but only became available as an audiobook this month.
I’m hoping that both of them are also embassies of my people.
‘The Midnight Library’ by Matt Haig (2020)
This will be my first Matt Haig book. I’m drawn to it because I understand the idea that staying alive is a choice and not just a default setting and I’m interested in seeing how Matt Haig deals with the relationship between the choices that we make and the people we become.
I know that this may be a bit bleak. It starts with a woman who has so little to live for that she decides to suicide. I don’t think you can deal with an issues like this without having staring into the darkness. I’m hoping that there will also be rational and realistic reasons for hope.
In an interview with The Independent, Matt Haig said:
“This book has more of my life in it than any of my other novels… Nora is very similar to me in my twenties; it’s emotionally quite autobiographical.”
He says that the book was influenced by Capra’s ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’, including that mix of darkness and sentientality. He explains that:
.“In my story, while there are flippant moments, Nora is still someone who has had a suicide attempt and is in between life and death.”
Nora’s depression is situational rather than clinical so part of the challenge is to find a situation that defeats the depression.
I’m hoping that this manages to be an engaging story and deal with the reality of struggling to find joy and meaning in continuing to live.
‘The Invisible Library’ by Genevieve Cogman (2014)
The whole Invisible Library series was released in audiobook format this month, so I’ve picked up the first book in the hope that I’ll fall in love with the world Genevieve Cogman has built and can dive in to a new fantasy series.
Three things pull me to this book. I love the idea that what keeps all of existence in balance is a multi-dimensional library staffed by Librarians who maintain this balance by stealing books. I’m intrigued by a multiverse where the two magical races, the noble, orderly dragons and the chaotic, untrustworthy Fae rely on librarians to keep the peace. I like that these big ideas are brought to life by having a cast of flamboyant, secret-keeping characters executing dangerous missions.
I’m hoping for escapist fantasy that carries me off to a different place, for a heroine I can cheer on and for world where the rules make sense and the challenges feel real.