Off the Reading Path: The Library at Mount Char, by Scott Hawkins

The title sounds promising: The Library at Mount Char*. I’m bookish; naturally I love libraries. This book should be right about my alley. Right?photo (50)

Well, no—but somehow Scott Hawkins’s debut was pretty fun reading.

The protagonist’s name is Carolyn, which is my name. It’s not a particularly unusual name—I’ve met a half dozen other Carolyns in the last thirty years—but it’s not Jessica or Emma or Katie, names I run across in books pretty frequently, nor is it a strange enough name that authors often choose it to set their characters apart. What I’m trying to say is that it is really weird to keep reading your own name when not accustomed to doing so, especially when the book’s first sentence is: “Carolyn, blood-drenched and barefoot, walked alone down the two-lane stretch of blacktop that the Americans called Highway 78.”

See? Oh, and don’t worry: it gets worse for Carolyn. Much worse.

The Library at Mount Char is a book that’s way, way out of my reading comfort zone (it might be in Rory’s, for those of you, like me, who love being vicariously scared through Fourth Street Review): it’s very violent, and the genre is a cross between horror and contemporary urban fantasy, with quite a bit of Jacobean revenge tragedy thrown in. It’s a bit like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (which I loved), I suppose. Maybe that’s why I simply could not stop reading it.

It’s disturbing and horrifying, sure, but it takes place in a world that is not ours, which makes the violence almost theatrical. Think Titus Andronicus. It is also a deeply bizarre book; it went in directions I certainly didn’t anticipate, and while I had one major plot point figured out in the beginning of the novel, it’s a testament to Mr. Hawkins’s power of invention that the book managed to surprise me in almost every chapter.

By now you’re probably wondering what this deeply bizarre, inventive, and violent book is about. It’s tricky to give you a plot without giving too much away, but here goes: Carolyn is a very special kind of librarian, one of twelve people taken in as children by Father after all their parents died. Each of them is an expert in his or her own (strange) catalogue, but Father is master of them all, and his power is unmatchable: he can bend the rules of time and space, and to disobey him is to suffer.

When the book opens, Father is missing, and the library that contains his secrets and his power is up for grabs. Carolyn wants in—very badly.

The Library at Mount Char is not for the faint of heart, but if you want a wild ride, some serious thinking about family, nature versus nurture, cruelty, and love, you might want to give this book a try. I didn’t love all of it—quite a bit is downright unpleasant, and I have some issues with the ending, which I would love to talk about with somebody—but I kept turning pages in surprise.

What’s the last book that took you out of your reading comfort zone?

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration, which did not affect the content of my review

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11 thoughts on “Off the Reading Path: The Library at Mount Char, by Scott Hawkins

  1. OK, the first sentence already has me going. Why say “the two-lane stretch of blacktop that the Americans call Highway 78,” instead of “the two-lane stretch of Highway 78”? Sounds unwieldy or pretentious.

  2. I have seen this book around, but I think this is the first review I’ve read of it. It’s not my type of book either, but you have me very curious. I do like the unexpected sometimes.
    I just finished reading ‘Naomi’ by Junichiro Tanizaki, and it is weird reading your own name when you’re not used to it. The character was very unlike me (I hope), which was also weird.

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