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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Book review: Sophie Divry novel of elusive love is a strong debut

A single and embittered librarian seizes upon the opportunity to begin a long, one-sided conversation with a strange man in Sophie Divry¿s The Library of Unrequited Love.

The Library of Unrequited Love

Sophie Divry

Maclehose Press

For most, libraries are serene, low-key institutions, but for at least one librarian, they are both haven and hell.

Thoroughly entertaining, but also tinged with sadness, The Library of Unrequited Love is a slim (only 92 pages) but strongly written novel about a French librarian who discovers a visitor who has been locked in the library overnight.

The librarian, a 40-year-old who is single and bitter over an ex-boyfriend who left her for another woman, seizes upon the opportunity to begin a long, one-sided conversation with the man for the next two hours.

The result is a soliloquy that covers books, French history, literature, geography (her specialty), the Dewey Decimal System, men, love and loneliness. While providing safety and sanctuary from a world that may have treated her unfairly, the library has also become a den of despair, in part because of a recent attraction to a shy, quiet young researcher and library patron that apparently is not mutual.

"Love, for me, is something I find in books. I read a lot, it's comforting," the unnamed librarian says in Unrequited. "You're never alone if you live surrounded by books."

No other voice is heard, but the novel's writing is so seamless that the librarian's lamentations never seem laborious or long-winded.

The author, Sophie Divry, admitted that the character in her debut novel contained some aspects of her own life.

"I am not a librarian. I have, however, spent a lot of time in libraries and have introduced a few anecdotes into my book," Divry said in an email exchange translated from French. "But most of all I have done a great deal of research about libraries. I prefer the idea of people learning something whilst having the pleasure of reading."

Divry described herself as one of those writers who is organised and methodical, but nowhere close to the extent of her book's tragic main character.

"The protagonist is obsessed with order, and this helps her a lot with her work," Divry said. "But she also has a desire for fantasy that eats away at her, and makes her very touching."

* Mark Angeles