Secret passions of a lovelorn bookworm
The Library of Unrequited Love
By Sophie Divry Translated by Sian Reynolds MacLehose Press, 92pp, $19.99
SOPHIE Divry’s witty, waspish, wilful, wistful, erudite, penetrating but wonderfully eloquent and diverting debut is a rant that reads like one long, breathless sentence. No paragraphs. No chapters.
The way this little book seems to break all the rules of fiction writing invites the reviewer also to break rules, such as hold the adjectives (especially in groups of three); avoid alliteration, don’t be opinionated or subjective.
Our unnamed narrator/protagonist, buried in the basement of a French provincial library that houses 200,000-plus books, is similarly witty, waspish and wilful.
She is also sad, lonely and bitter. She’s been doing the same job for 25 years yet still no one notices her. Not even Martin, a young researcher who is modest, intelligent, industrious and with that oh so delectable nape of the neck. Because is there anything more fascinating about a person than a beautiful neck seen from behind? The back of a neck is a promise, summing up the whole person through their most intimate feature. Yes, intimate. It’s the part of your body you can never see yourself. A few inches of neck with a trace of down, exposed to the sky, the back of the head, the last goodbye, the far side of the mind.
Our librarian knows hers cially high-level job’’.
‘‘ isn’t an espe- Pretty close to being in a factory. I’m a cultural assembly line worker . . . See, over there on the right, that’s History. Personally, I like that section. In fact, I love it. But I was appointed to manage Geography and Town Planning, here on the left. And let me tell you that between Geography and History, that is between shelfmarks 910 and 930, there’s a great gulf fixed. A symbolic line not to be crossed.
Her monologue, or rant, is aimed at a hapless client/customer/borrower whom she discovers one morning two hours before opening time asleep between some shelves. She lets fly at him but he never responds. Would he dare? Does he even exist?
Divry looks young in her author photo but she, too, is erudite, wise and whip-smart with much to say (in 92 pages) about books, libraries, French history, literature and culture, but above all about her librarian’s life.
We are treated to a mini-dissertation on the Dewey decimal classification system interleaved with spiky commentary. Dewey is the Mendeleev of librarians. Not the Periodic Table of Elements, but the classification of areas of culture. When that fanatic Dewey classified literature, he set up a monument to ethnocentrism . . . So Dewey’s classification has been modified. They decided it would be more politically correct to increase the space for non-aligned countries.
Mademoiselle’s mission is to stop ‘‘ readers perverting the overall arrangement of my basement’’. Readers may assume this is a stereotypical portrait of a librarian, a view perhaps reinforced by the elegant but cartoonish cover image of our lady with top knot, prim lips, spectacles, turtleneck sweater and modest heels, standing in front of tidy shelves.
She is also a passionate, if frustrated, advocate of books, reading and libraries: ‘‘ I feel like the Maginot Line of public reading.’’
She is dismissed with a laugh when pointing out that ‘‘ it was useless buying bad trans-