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The Library of Unrequited Love by Sophie Divry (trans Sian Reynolds)


One morning a librarian finds a reader who has been locked in overnight.

She starts to talk to him, a one-way conversation that soon gathers pace as an outpouring of frustrations, observations and anguishes. Two things shine through: her shy, unrequited passion for a quiet researcher named Martin, and an ardent and absolute love of books.

A delightful flight of fancy for the lonely bookworm in all of us…
Divry’s novella is a first-person monologue addressed directly to the reader, about two different loves; the love of the (anonymous) narrator-librarian for the library, and for a patron of the library. It is at once a paean to and a scathing attack on libraries and their flaws; their systematic classification of everything – specifically, under the Dewey Decimal System, whose Anglocentrism and antiquatedness is taken on rather harshly; their history of cultural elitism, hoarding knowledge in the hands of the powerful; their problematic democratisation, as they bring in more multimedia elements. The Library of Unrequited Love discusses each of these and all of these, sometimes together, sometimes separately, alongside the way libraries democratise knowledge, bring people together, unite people across class, culture and other social boundaries. It’s a fascinating text on that level, as it ranges from love to hate.

It’s also wonderful as a psychological study, of both narrator and the object of their infatuation (there are implications that the narrator is female, but I don’t believe it is ever spelled out). The Library of Unrequited Love moves from friendly interest and admiration of Martin from afar, through love, to a sort of disdainful jealous hatred, as the librarian talks more and around her infatuation. It’s interesting to watch as her emotions towards Martin change and come into and out of focus, as she tells us more; the way that we can sympathise with her attraction and then feel repulsed by it moment to moment.

Divry is a very adept writer, and this stream-of-conciousness monologue is a fantastic piece of work; 90 pages of thought, rawly poured out onto the page, with a mixture of humour, sadness and seriousness; historical, cultural and political commentary; and the vagaries of the human heart. The Library of Unrequited Love really is the library of the human experience…

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