Serbia’s Zoran Zivkovic is very likely the premiere practitioner of Borgesian and/or Kafkaesque fiction at work today. THE LIBRARY, Zivkovic’s seventh book, isn’t nearly as monumental or as mind-boggling as some of his other works--particularly his confounding masterpiece ESCHER’S LOOPS--but it is at least easier to read.
It’s a collection of six memorably nightmarish stories, all centered on books and their (mostly adverse) affects on various lonely, solitary individuals. As in Zivkovic’s other publications, the prose is unerringly smooth and spare, and the narratives strong and often downright sharp in their unsparing insights into the vagaries of bibliophilia.
“Virtual Library” explores the impact of the internet on a writer, who discovers a website claiming to have every book ever written available for download--including, to the writer’s great consternation, his own novels. Even more vexing is the fact that many of his books listed on the sight haven’t been written yet.
In “Home Library” a man finds a succession of thick books turning up in his mailbox. These books contain all the literature of the world, and come to take up nearly all the space in the hapless protagonist’s apartment.
“Night Library” has a man entering a library late at night. He winds up trapped inside the library, which, he learns, becomes a different place after dark. This “Night Library” only has books of people’s lives, including that of the protagonist. It can’t be checked out, though, as it might be lost, which, according to a night librarian, “would be as though you’d never lived.”
“Infernal Library” refers to hell. A “reformed” hell, that is, having been refashioned into a giant library as both punishment (because so few people read) and therapy to the inferno’s denizens.
The “Smallest Library” is contained within a single book bequeathed by an eccentric old man. The book’s text changes every time it’s shut and is resistant to photocopying. But the writer protagonist wants very much to copy its contents, and eventually discovers an extremely time-consuming way to do so.
The final story is “Noble Library,” about a snooty man who’s appalled to discover a paperback book in his cherished hardcover collection. He expels the offending book but immediately finds it back on the shelf. This book, it turns out, is the very one under review here, and the guy finally disposes of it in a wholly novel and unexpected manner.