Novella a Day in May #18

The Library of Unrequited Love – Sophie Divry (2010, trans. Sian Reynolds 2013) 92 pages

The Library of Unrequited Love by Sophie Divry is a monologue delivered by a librarian to a reader who she discovers has been locked in the library overnight, when she opens up in the morning. The librarian is middle-aged and frustrated about a plethora of things, including her job:

“Being a librarian isn’t an especially high-level job I can tell you. Pretty close to being in a factory. I’m a cultural assembly line worker.”

She is committed to librarianship however, and throughout the novella her love of books emerges, as does her appreciation of the Dewey decimal system:

“they didn’t just classify by author, they sometimes put books on the shelf by size, or date of acquisition. Now I think of it, the confusion it must have caused. Glad I didn’t live then, I couldn’t have put up with that kind of anarchy.”

The reader remains a silent interlocutor as the librarian spills out all her feelings. Although she claims she has given up on love, you get the sense this isn’t quite true:

 “One of my favourite authors, you’ve already gathered that, is Guy de Maupassant. Now there’s a man for you. Just imagine, he wrote two hundred and ninety short stories and seven novels in ten years. And then on Sundays, he went rowing on the Seine. A real force of nature, eh? He must have had terrific biceps and been fantastically intelligent.”

There are also her unrequited feelings for a regular library reader:

“With that lovely neck of his. It would disappoint me if a man as clever as Martin were to be in love. But you have to be prepared for anything.”

The librarian is a funny and acerbic narrator:

“That’s another reason I don’t go travelling. Napoleon’s always been there first. I can’t stand it.”

She is slightly self-deceiving but she is also wise, sad, honest and above all, entertaining. I enjoyed my short time in her company, mostly because The Library of Unrequited Love is actually about a love that is always fulfilled, over and over: the love of books.

“Book and reader, if they meet up at the right moment in a person’s life, it can make sparks fly, set you alight, change your life.”

22 thoughts on “Novella a Day in May #18

  1. I recall seeing quite a few positive reviews of this book when it came out but then it must have dropped off my radar for some reason. Thanks for the reminder – it does sound good.

    As an aside, have you come across The Incident Report by Martha Baillie? It’s a novella framed around a set of library incident reports which come together to give an insight into the protagonist’s personal life alongside her role as a librarian. I couldn’t help but be reminded of it as I was reading your post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love your novella series – I’ve read Sophie Divry in French – she was one of my ‘local’ writers, from Lyon, so just an hour away from where I lived. She is very funny and yet quite acerbic about life in present-day France. She also has a lot to say about poverty and bureaucracy in When the Devil Left the Bathroom and Madame Bovary of the Provinces.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Funny yet acerbic is absolutely right! This is the first of hers I’ve read, so I’ll definitely see if the 2 titles you mention are available in English translation. Thank you for pointing me towards her other work 🙂


  3. Pingback: “A library is a place where you can lose your innocence without losing your virginity.” (Germaine Greer) | madame bibi lophile recommends

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