The Library of Unrequited Love is a 2014 French-translation short story by Sophie Divry, which follows a conversation that the ‘transcriber’ has with a librarian after accidentally being locked in overnight. The story depicts what is essentially a monologue, breaking up the text with direct addresses to the reader who is positioned as the other character through use of the second person.
The text starts in medias res which works exceptionally well with the second person. To have a narrative entirely constructed in the second person is a bold and brave choice, and it is difficult to pull off, but I think that Divry handles it in a reasonably controlled manner.
The portrayal of the librarian herself is cleverly handled. Although the impression that we get of her at the beginning is, in some ways, the same as the one that we get at the end, there are also numerous ways in which her character develops in the short two hours in which the story happens. There are a few problems that I have with her as a character, which are hard to ignore when the entire story is centred on her alone. The character fits perfectly into the librarian stereotype. She is haughty and presumptuous, bitter and uninteresting. She has a closeted life and no friends. I think Divry could have done so much more with her character given the space that she has to focus on a usually under-represented role. In all honesty, there is little room to hide when you make as brave a choice as choosing a monologue for the entirety of a narrative, and her main character is not quite strong enough to uphold the structure. The main character seems to change her opinions a lot and her narrative voice constantly changes between formal and informal speech which makes it even more difficult to get a clear sense of her as a character.
Saying that, however, there are several elements of the story in which Divry’s brilliance shines. The first is the insistence she makes in pointing out the under appreciation of books and libraries. We take for granted these privileges and the work that goes into them, and the comfort and safety that they bring to people. I particularly like how the book enters into several social debates, and it sides with the underdog. For example, there are passages which are heavily Marxist and feminist, and while they may contradict with previous things we have learnt about the main character (such as the fact that she is a fan of Durkheim), they are still well-written and convincing. The text also enters into debates about print culture which I have rarely found in fiction and which I found greatly interesting. The text also makes an attempt to show the interrelation of literature and history with the novel, and whilst it is a clever idea, I think it could have been executed.
The story does well to tease out these facets of the librarian’s personality, knowledge and beliefs and show us how she has transformed (albeit slightly) by the text’s end. Although I still considered her rather dull, I at least saw the pitiable and sad nature of the librarian’s lifestyle towards the end, which I imagine was Divry’s goal.
Overall, the text is good as an easy read: both because of its simple nature and the fact that it is double-spaced and short. If you are interested in introspective pieces then this could be the text for you. Otherwise, I can’t say that I would recommend this text as I personally did not enjoy it.