Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

What You are Looking For
is in the Library

Aoyama Michiko

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase What You are Looking For is in the Library

Title: What You are Looking For is in the Library
Author: Aoyama Michiko
Genre: Novel
Written: 2020 (Eng. 2023)
Length: 300 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: What You are Looking For is in the Library - US
What You are Looking For is in the Library - UK
What You are Looking For is in the Library - Canada
La bibliothèque des rêves secrets - France
Frau Komachi empfiehlt ein Buch - Deutschland
Finché non aprirai quel libro - Italia
La biblioteca de los nuevos comienzos - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Japanese title: お探し物は図書室まで
  • Translated by Alison Watts

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B : ultra-saccharine, but/and does what it sets out to very well

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Japan Times A 13/11/2023 L.G.Kittaka
The NY Times Book Rev. . 10/9/2023 Robin Sloan
The Straits Times . 12/11/2023 Walter Sim

  From the Reviews:
  • "Aoyama rewards her readers with tidbits of bonus details throughout the book, gracefully weaving her characters’ lives together and tying up loose ends with subtle reveals that feel satisfying and authentic. Alison Watts also deserves credit for her smooth translation from the original Japanese into English, while the line drawings by Anna Morrison at the start of each chapter offer an enjoyable peek into the lives of the five protagonists. (...) If what you are searching for is a believable take on contemporary life in Tokyo, seasoned with a dash of whimsy, you’ll find your perfect match in this heartwarming novel." - Louise George Kittaka, The Japan Times

  • "The novel’s translator, Alison Watts, faithfully shepherds into English a cast of characters who are wonderfully wide open: smart and searching, but not trying to impress. The prose is diaristic and hyper-casual — the tone of much contemporary Japanese fiction. (...) Reading What You Are Looking For Is in the Library, I felt preemptively protective, because it is the kind of story often dismissed as “cute” or “light.” Those labels don’t capture the muscularity of what’s happening here, nor do they capture the risk (.....) (T)he novel is an undeniable page-turner, its mechanism energized by a simple question, posed again and again by the uncanny librarian, Mrs. Komachi." - Robin Sloan, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Beneath the surface of Japanese writer Michiko Aoyama’s down-to-earth and almost soppily sentimental prose is a celebration of life and all that can come with positive thinking. (...) The novel is transcendent, almost preachy. (...) By the end, even though the life lessons may seem repetitve, Aoyama succeeds in nudging readers to look within themselves in a moment of introspection." - Walter Sim, The Straits Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       What You are Looking For is in the Library has five chapters, each narrated by a different character. While they are at different stages of their lives each is somewhat adrift, from twenty-one year-old Tomoka who is just beginning her work-life to to the recently retired sixty-five-year-old Masao. Each chances upon the library attached to the Hatori Community House, where they find helpful young library assistant Nozomi Morinaga who points them to the physically very imposing librarian, Sayuri Komachi.
       While at first sight Ms.Komachi doesn't seem quite that approachable, they each find they almost immediately feel comfortable in her presence. Each has reason to look for books on a certain subject-matter -- Tomoka, for example, on learning to use a computer, because she is taking a course to learn Excel, while Masao is looking for books about the game Go, because his wife has enrolled him in a course to learn it -- and Ms.Komachi prints out a list of appropriate books for them -- but also includes at least one title that seems completely unrelated but which of course is the one that proves truly useful to the characters.
       Ms.Komachi also presents each of them with a small 'bonus gift': her hobby is felting, and she gives each of them one of the little objects she has made. Ms.Komachi explains her hobby -- and the comparison to what she does in real life with these visitors is obvious:

     "Felting is mysterious," she says. "All you do is keep poking the needle at a ball of wool and it turns into a three-dimensional shape. You might think that you are simply poking randomly, and the strands are all tangled together, but there is a shape within that the needle will reveal." She jabs roughly at the ball again.
       While the five narrators' stories are distinct, there are neat small bits of overlap. The library and Ms.Komachi are the obvious point of connection, but the characters' lives cross elsewhere too, in sometimes unexpected ways, including the antique-shop owner who had made a great impression on now thirty-five-year-old Ryo when he was a teenager who then later appears working at a different job in one of the others' accounts. This is also one of the major themes of the novel: as one character observes:
     "Everybody is connected. And any one of their connections could be the start of a network that branches in many directions. If you wait for the right time to make connections, it might never happen, but if you show your face around, talk to people and see enough to give you the confidence that things could work out, then 'one day' might turn into 'tomorrow.'"
       This proves to be the case here, repeatedly. Seeking out Ms.Komachi is the first step they all make, and even though it seems a small one, it's nudge enough to make for cascade, small or large, that sees them begin to move in the right direction. It works most obviously for Natsumi, who lost the job as editor she had when she returned to work from her maternity leave, finding herself pushed into another role, and who struggles between work and motherhood but, through connections and coïncidences finds her way into the perfect job and workplace for her. In other cases, the characters are, at best, still only on their way -- but they have all seemingly at least found their way, and a sense of confidence in and optimism about their futures.
       Switching jobs or in some way finding their vocation is another major theme of the novel, as practically everyone at least considers changing what they are (or, in the case of thirty-year-old NEET ('not in employment, education, or training') Hiroya, aren't) doing. Even Ms.Komachi's career path was not simply one of being a librarian.
       Broadly speaking, Ms.Komachi nudges each of them to find their way -- and each does. In most of their cases, they don't outright accomplish everything they might hope for -- Natsumi's is the most complete change -- but they are now all at least on the right path, as it were. Ms.Komachi emphasizes that it's the path that is important -- after all, life is one long series of progression. Where at first they didn't really see much of a future -- "I have no ambitions, nothing I enjoy", Tomoka complains -- or are simply in a rut, like Ryo at his job, or can't see any way forward, like Hiroya, each finds something to look forward to and work towards; each finds some sense of purpose.
       It is all ultra-saccharine sweet, with only the slightest of rough edges. Practically everyone around the characters is incredibly understanding and helpful -- and the coïncidences are of the most convenient kind. Conflicts don't fester, but rather are sensibly talked through and resolved to mutual satisfaction. Aoyama helps make it more palatable by avoiding being too outright preachy and wisely keeping Ms.Komachi as a somewhat intimidating figure who does not feature too prominently -- there are very much the characters' stories. (The one peculiar darker angle to the story is that the Community House: "used to be connected to the elementary school but access is blocked now for security reasons" (which also makes it a bit more difficult to find), with old man Masao even getting taken in by the police when he stops to look over the fence at the children in the schoolyard -- and his wife thinking it's perfectly normal for her husband to have gotten into trouble for that: "If a man, dressed like that, is standing around in the middle of the day grinning at children, he's bound to attract suspicion. Children are the target of all sorts of crimes nowadays". So somewhere in this otherwise near-perfect world apparently really bad things are going on?)
       What You are Looking For is in the Library is very much and very obviously meant to be a feel-good, uplifting read, as buoyant as can be. It is all very well done, for this sort of thing. Aoyama doesn't strain to a perfect, happy end for each character; rather, she shows normal lives that find satisfaction in some sense of purpose and goal and, for now (at the end), are happy enough in pursuing that. Presumably readers are meant to be able to relate to these everyday characters and situations -- and left feeling good about them.
       It's certainly very lite popular fiction, going down as easy as can be, with engaging stories quite well presented and appealingly, loosely connected. (It's also what I suspect a lot of the commercial/popular fiction of the future, written by/with Artificial Intelligence, will look like: polished, hitting the right notes, just off-beat enough, but ultimately literarily hollow, and so one-sidedly bright (except for what's apparently happening off-scene to the little schoolkids ?) that it feels in-human.)

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 March 2024

- Return to top of the page -


What You are Looking For is in the Library: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Japanese author Aoyama Michiko (青山美智子) was born in 1970.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2024 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links