Recent Reads: The Invisible Library

The Invisible Library by Genevive Cogman 21416690was the first book which I read in about three months which I would really and truly categorise under ‘fantasy’. I read the first chapter in the bookstore before Christmas, and then asked for it because it focused heavily on language and word choice, and my English Literature heart was thrilled at the ‘meta-level’ of text and language the author was hinting at.

Plot Summary…

Elaine returns from a mission, having successfully retrieved the book she was sent for, and just barely escaping the previous owners of the book. Back at home in the Library she reflects on her role in this world: she is a young librarian and goes into parallel universes (all of which are accessible through the Library) to collect particularly valuable texts. Contrary to her expectations of a period of rest after her task, she is immediately sent back out into the field- with an apprentice and a distinct lack of information.

As she discovers more about the new world which she has entered in order to retrieve a copy of ‘The Grimm Fairy tales’, it seems to become more and more dangerous. Although protected by a certain form of magic which comes from the Library, is shaped by and supported by the texts in the Library, and is used through a special Language, her powers seem to pale in comparison with the forces around her. This world is plagued by chaos in the form of Elves and Vampires, the copy of the Fairy tales is mysteriously missing, Elaine’s rival creates confusion and then the enemy of the entire Library, a deserter and a powerful magician turns up…

Carefully balanced, the novel traces Elaine’s quest, her changing relationships to colleagues, rivals and friends, and her battle with the inner demons of doubt.

Some Comments…

Possibly my favourite idea was the notion that there is a world which is just a massive Library- so large that it can take months to get through from one location to the next. However I was also fascinated in the apparent amount of work that was put into the book to make it ordered, to establish new ‘rules’ within the settings so that the events still follow the logic of that universe. Through the use of dialogue and the experience of different characters it became clear how the different fantastical creatures differed from humans, shaping the story in different ways. Once established, these characters acted in fairly clear and predictable ways, allowing them to be manipulated, avoided or beaten by our protagonists.

It was the humans which were the most complex, able to play on both the side of order and of chaos, to act both of catalysts of good and bad. This echoed well with the central theme; Boiled down the story is a battle of chaos vs. order, both in the universe in which Elaine was trying to retrieve the book and within herself. As she faces new tasks and challenges, the work she does for the Library, the split loyalties and political arrangements within the library and her relationships with her colleagues are all questioned. Elaine must choose between continuing her work, which she perceives as good, with very little knowledge about the big picture, or chose to go over to the side of chaos and gain unforeseeable amounts of knowledge and power.

A lot of what I liked about this book was the careful way it was set up, the focus on language, and the internal order. Although the story did not rivet me enough to pull me away from my English Literature style analysis, I have a lot of respect for the amount of work which has gone into the structure and the setup. I also suspect that a lot of the joy of reading may have gotten lost through the translation, as I read this in German, rather than English. One I would recommend, but only if you truly enjoy the mystical sometimes unpredictable world of fantasy.

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