Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

I share much the same initial sentiment of my fellow readers on this WTactualF did I just read. I was thrust into a world where the players affectionately sniff each other in greeting (as was polite) and kill small children for multiple reasons because you can't have just one. Just as this tale was at times unsavory, yet at times really intriguing, I'm also of two minds about how I feel about it.

To say the characters are unlikeable is an understatement. There's our "librarians" - David, whose catalogue is murder and war. His hobbies include squeezing blood from the hearts of his victims into his hair, creating a sort of warrior's helmet over time, and bringing his girlfriend the still animated, severed heads of his spoils to play with. Speaking of Margaret, her forays into the underworld require dying, obviously. But with each visit, she loses a bit of herself after every trip, until, well, she thinks it's fun to lick the tears of severed heads. And of course this constant dying and reviving is made possible by Jennifer, whose catalogue is medicine. She can heal and bring back the dead, but her constant dabbling with pain and its relief has led to her working most effectively in a drugged out stupor. Then there's Rachel, who kills children on a regular basis. She walks surrounded by her ghostly charges, who enable her to see the future.

Speaking of reanimated dead (because there are many types), some serve as housekeepers and placeholders for the librarians. Think complacent zombies that sweep and dust and live in houses that serve as a front to disguise the library, which exists in 17 dimensions.

But back to our librarians. There's Carolyn, who is a language expert for every language ever to exist, including things like the poetic language of storms. And Michael, ambassador of beasts. He lives among and communicates with animals (hence the sniffing greetings). These are some of the 12 librarians, all selected and trained by "Father," whose methods of discipline include roasting his children in an exotic bull shaped barbeque, among other things. A man who could call down lightning or stop time, to whom stones spoke to by name. But is he God? Or a god? Hardly.

And that's part of the intrigue of this book. Who is God? What are the rules of the universe? What makes someone good, or evil, or powerful?

With all the violence, death, and heavy themes, Hawkins blends humor and farcical touches throughout the book.

Like the part where one character is celebrating being basically a god but sits around drinking Budweiser. BUDWEISER!

Or the part where Father explains how all the horrible things he's done had reasons behind them, as if he's some misunderstood psychopathic sadist. Like we're supposed to sympathize with him when he explains how he had an epiphany the last time he roasted David in the bull.

Or how the language of the librarians is Pelapi, a singsongy cross between an illegitimate child of Vietnamese and a cat fight.

Or how David, having to spend some time in America, decides a tutu is the closest thing to his customary loincloth. Hawkins loves to remind us of how bloodstained it is each time David makes an entrance to engage in mass murder.

Or when Carolyn concocts an overly complicated plan that involves killing someone, getting someone else locked up in jail, breaking said person out of jail, then sending him off somewhere to be potentially attacked and killed by wild dogs, in the off chance that he'll drop something somewhere for someone else to find later and on and on. Just hearing her explanation of her plan was more ridiculous than the playing out of said plan.

Then there's the whole, the sun disappeared bit, where earth basically experiences an apocalypse, something Hawkins really just glosses over, having one character note that maybe she noticed something off because the store WAS out of guacamole...

And I could go on and on.

Here's the rub for me...if still you're on board after reading all of this so far. I basically read the book twice. After the first read, I wrote an angry I-hate-this-book review. But I felt I needed specific examples of what I actually hated. So I skimmed the book a second time through. I noticed two things, first, I didn't remember a lot of details from the first read. I think I read the book half asleep the first time. Second, because I had some context, a lot of the details I (legitimately) read the first time, actually made sense the second time. After that second go, I felt completely differently about this book.

It's hard to follow, confusing, and seriously random. But it's also wildly creative and original. It's definitely not for everyone, as there is a lot of violence. But it's written in a way that you don't really feel too invested in anyone or anything that dies. And death isn't necessarily a permanent condition, so...I wasn't really bothered by the violence as much as others seemed to be. Let's just say this book would make for a great Tarantino film. I almost hope that happens.

And while I've only read great reviews on this book, I also wouldn't be surprised if you, like me, hate it, at least the first time around.

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