Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Thursday, 28 February 2013

The Library of Unrequited Love - Sophie Divry

Translated from the French by Sian Reynolds

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

I think this is a beautiful book inside and out. A lovely little hardback with a very attractively designed dust jacket, and inside a wonderful novella filled with remarkable, striking observations about books, libraries, love and life.

Sophie Divry's debut is written in the form of a monologue delivered by a librarian in the provinces who one morning discovers a reader in the library who has been locked in there all night. This reader is on the receiving end of the librarian's thoughts; subjected to hearing all about the things she loves, the things that anger and irritate her, and the person who has caught her eye. 

I read this book in just a couple of sittings, and many readers would probably finish it in just one. It's a charming and insightful little story featuring a passionate but anxious, troubled and lonely lady. The librarian feels invisible and is unhappy with the Geography section that she has been allocated, longing for her preferred section, History; indeed she divulges some of her views about this topic too. She shares her disapproval of the hierarchy of staff within the library, and her disgruntlement at readers who come to the library and simply make a mess. Whilst she complains about many things to her captive listener, she nevertheless has a strong affection for libraries and books and this shines through.

She has been hurt in love and tells us she avoids it now, with her job helping her cope with all that bothers her: 'the library works like an anaesthetic for my hang-ups.' She reveals that she has noticed a man, Martin, who has been coming to the library, and he is evidently in her thoughts a good deal - she movingly discloses how beautiful she finds him, but her past hurt holds her back, and she seeks safety and solace in books:

'So men, no, that's all over. Love, for me, is something I find in books. I read a lot, it's comforting. You're never alone if you live surrounded by books. They lift my spirit. The main thing is to be uplifted.'

The author has captured the magic and joy of books and reading and the pleasure found in a library and conveyed this so well through the librarian. Her voice held my attention throughout. I think most bookworms will find elements here that they agree with, or that make them smile or chuckle, or ponder - I certainly did. All in all this is a lovely little book with much that will resonate with keen readers.

I marked and noted so many little passages as I read this book that I must share a couple more of my favourites here at the end of this review - there are so many perceptive gems to be discovered in Sophie Divry's writing.

'You know, in my job, there's nothing more exciting, to make you feel more wanted, than to be able to size up the person in front of you, guess what they're after, find the book they need on the shelves and bring the two together. 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.'

'I prefer the company of books. When I'm reading, I'm never alone, I have a conversation with the book. It can be very intimate. Perhaps you know this feeling yourself? The sense that you're having an intellectual exchange with the author, following his or her train of thought and you can accompany each other for weeks on end.'

Published by Maclehose Press

Thanks very much to the publisher for kindly sending me a copy of this book to read and review. 

This book is another read for me in the 2013 Translation Challenge


  1. I know I would love this – books and libraries are some of my favourite things!

    1. Thanks for commenting Barbara. It's a clever little book all about those things we love!

  2. I love the sound of this one, Lindsay. I might even seek it out in the original language and brush up on my rusty French!

    1. Thanks for commenting Treez. I reckon you could give it a go in the original!

  3. This sounds unusual and quite beautiful. Thank you for the review, a definite to-read!

    1. Thanks for commenting Wendy. It's a nice little read that doesn't take long and has some intereting points.

  4. This one sounds great, I've just reserved a copy from the library

    1. Thanks for commenting Sam, I hope you'll enjoy this one as much as I did, it's a short quick read too but I loved some of the passages.


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