Review: ‘The Library of Unrequited Love’ by Sophie Divry

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I picked this up in Waterstones for three reasons. One, the title and cover illustration – I’m all for anything about libraries. Two, I was looking for short reads (this isn’t 100 pages) and three, for translated fiction (this is translated from French). This is also a super-quick read – I really recommend reading it in one sitting to really appreciate the style.

The whole story is a monologue, from a librarian who finds a man sleeping in her section of the library when she goes in first thing in the morning.

While he occasionally seems to chip in we as readers have only her side of the exhange, and infer his comments from her reactions. It took me a few pages to get accustomed to – the voice here isn’t quite like anything I’ve read before, and I don’t think it’ll be for everyone. Some people will definitely find it exciting, others might find it alienating.

Personally I found it a fantastically charming story – I didn’t find the librarian an immediately likeable character, actually, which made her very interesting. While she clearly has unfulfilled wants in life, the way she expresses her self-pity is never sentimental, and very cleverly expressed.  It’s an impressive character study and exercise in voice.

The piece focuses more on characterisation than plot, and is quite reflective, as the narrator expresses plenty of opinions and ideas, mixed in with her stories and memories. I found her amusingly contradictory of herself on occasion, and by the end of the book was actually sort of fond of her. Divry manages a strong enough characterisation that even though I don’t think we’d get on if I were to meet her, I felt a connection to what made this woman tick, where she was coming from and how she interpreted the world. It’s difficult with that kind of portrayal in front of you to resist the nuance of the character – good and bad.

I certainly recommend this as a delightfully quirky read – especially to anyone seeking a strong voice. In particular, any writers looking for great exercises in voice may find this a very useful study.

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