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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Dark Library

Cyrille Martinez

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To purchase The Dark Library

Title: The Dark Library
Author: Cyrille Martinez
Genre: Novel
Written: 2018 (Eng. 2020)
Length: 162 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Dark Library - US
The Dark Library - UK
The Dark Library - Canada
La bibliothèque noire - Canada
La bibliothèque noire - France
  • French title: La bibliothèque noire
  • Translated by Joseph Patrick Stancil

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Our Assessment:

B : creatively spun bookish tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
l'Humanité . 31/5/2018 Alain Nicolas
Publishers Weekly . 2/9/2020 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Martinez tempers his satire with wit and quirky characters. This will delight fans of absurdist fiction." - Publishers Weekly

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.

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The complete review's Review:

       The three parts of The Dark Library each have a different narrator: 'A Reader in Danger', 'The Angry Young Book', and 'The Red Librarian'. They share a locale, an immense literary repository that is the focus of the book, and where most of it takes place: the Great Library, "the largest and oldest library in the country".
       The reader introduces us to the grand structure and collection -- but already from the first he is aware:

     A book was waiting for me at the Great Library and I couldn't help but believe that it had been written especially for me.
       When he settles down in the Reading Room a book does, indeed, find him. He doesn't recognize the 51-page volume he finds on his table as such, but when he moves to put it on the returns cart it pipes up and insists: "I'm the book written for you. I was waiting for you. So, read me". Eventually, the reader -- and/or, indeed, you-the-reader (if you continue ...) -- do, as the second part of the novel is then 'The Angry Young Book'.
       It, too, is a library tale -- an insider tale, warning of the threat to books and reading as we know it; it is a manifesto, of sorts, a call to action:
Support our cause. Join the fight now. Read me.
       Much of the Angry Book's story tells of a dedicated reader and library-user who disappeared, the Historian -- only to have traces of him begin to surface, a few months later, in ... books.
       The users of the library, too, -- caught up in the strange fate of the Historian -- change in nature, and in their expectations of what a library is. They write to the management with their demands, summing up:
Today we need a library that is reactive, that allows for informing oneself, having fun, working, and seducing.
       Such a transformation also finds, soon enough:
     The readers had changed, their needs were different, and from then on they did just fine without books.
       Indeed, as the librarians note, soon the term 'readers' no longer seems to apply, and they look for something more appropriate to describe the users of the library. The librarians desperately cling to and hope for a restoration of the old and familiar, but the tactics then employed to try to save the library for its original purpose -- insisting users read ! -- practically empties it of users, with only a die-hard core left. Until, then, as the Red Librarian reports in the last part of the book, a hired army of Contractual Readers fill the space -- even displacing the true readers.
       The Contractual Readers do devour reading material -- but they're doing it for pay. They go through the entire collection -- yet they only consume it, rather than actually reading: "Despite their efforts, the former Contractuals could not manage to remember anything they'd read". And when they're done, practically overnight, the library becomes a very different place, the very nature of its collection fundamentally and comprehensively changed.
       The library is remade as the GREATLIB/LAB, its contents tidily digitized in and as THE GLOBAL BOOK PROJECT (GLObalBOok): who needs physical books when you can have: "All books in one: 14 terabytes of reading" ? But can a library -- of actual books and dedicated readers -- really be kept down and out ? -- or will a 'Dark Library' take hold (and over) ?
       The Dark Library isn't so much a battle of the books -- though, as we see with the Angry Book, the books take their stake in this very seriously, and do have minds and lives of their own, and are very actively involved -- but of a contest between the larger concept of reading-as-we-know-it, the familiar ecosphere of books, readers, and libraries, and the threats posed by the alluring promises of digitization (all books handily, universally accessible, etc.) and the repurposing of (library-)spaces. It's an enjoyably and creatively spun homage to the wonder that is a book-filled library, and to the power of books and reading, with Martinez's variations on how libraries are seen and used (by readers, books, librarians, and other forms of 'users') nicely spun out. Much here is fantastical -- but that also only helps make the point, of how books are capable of transporting us into worlds beyond the familiar and true-to-(our-)life.
       An enjoyably bookish fantasy and journey, just the thing for (real) readers.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 October 2020

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The Dark Library: Reviews: Other books by Cyrille Martinez under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Cyrille Martinez was born in 1972.

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© 2020-2021 the complete review

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