I read a lot of books. I’m a fast reader (at about 200 pages a day), so I easily devour about three novels a week. I read purely for pleasure and have an affinity for certain genres –mystery, science fiction, fantasy; so most of the books I read fall into these genres. The disadvantage of reading a lot of books of a specific type is that it gets boring after a while. The twists and turns that thrill other readers feel ridiculously predictable. However, occasionally, a book like The Library At Mount Char comes along and leaves all the neurons in my brain tingling.
There is a painting by Salvador Dali–Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening. If somehow you are able to combine that image with that of The Scream by Edvard Munch, then the feeling that one would get on seeing that combined picture is the feeling that I had on reading The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins. It is surreal, beautifully bizzare and scary in a way I cannot explain. Through most of the first half, I couldn’t decide if I was really reading or high on something (though I have NEVER done any drugs!). Even now, aweek later and after having a clearer picture, that sense of the surreal hasn’t lost it’s grip.
It is difficult to review this book without giving away too many spoilers because every little detail matters. The basic plot however, is this: A group of children, including our protagionist Carolyn, have been adopted by a person called Adam Black after a tragedy in which their parents are killed. The children call him ‘Father’ and live together in a mega “library”. Each of the children is trained in one of twelve catalogs. It becomes clear pretty quickly that this is no mere cult. There is something definitely supernatural and otherworldly about it all. One day ‘Father’ goes missing, and the children are locked out of the library –unable to approach it because of some force field that severely wounds them when they try. This leaves the Library vulnerable to others who seek its power. To resolve this, Carolyn and her brothers and sisters seek the help of Steve, who is a normal American guy. This in turn leads to the involvement of Erwin, an ex-Army guy, now with Homeland Security. The novel revolves around the solution to these mysteries — Who is Adam Black? Why has he disappeared? What exactly happened on the day he adopted these children?
Scott Hawkins builds a truly great world to set the story in. To any lover of books, libraries are beloved and magical spaces. Hawkins takes that and multiplies it by a 1000, adds a dash of awe and mystery and turns it into something of mythical proportions. There is a mythology here –derived from a mix of cultures and beliefs but with a delicate subtlety. The character of David, for example, reminds me of the demon Mahishasura from Hindu mythology. I cannot put my finger on why it is so but somewhere unconsciously the connection was made. If this was intentional on the author’s part, I cannot say.
The librarians have a solid larger than life quality to them and Carolyn and David especially are clearly etched. In my opinion,the others –Jennifer, Margaret et al seem like fall short in comparison and while they seem interesting, exist only to support either Carolyn or David. This for me was the only shortcoming in a truly brilliant book. I wish they had a larger role to play and I wish I knew their stories as well.
To call the The Library At Mount Char ‘unputdownable’ is an understatement. My fingers never tired from turning the pages, my eyes stayed glued to the words and I myself was so lost in its world that I never realized when it ended. When it was done, I was left wanting more. So reader beware–you may just get addicted!
FTC disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this honest review.
Author Bio: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/222794/scott-hawkins