The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard
16 September, 2009
The Library of Shadows by Mikkel Birkegaard is my third title for the R.I.P. IV Challenge hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings which has proved to be an interesting and enjoyable challenge (the other two reviews can be found here and here). I first saw this book in Waterstone’s and, as you can imagine, the title leapt out at me screaming literary thriller and I couldn’t resist snatching it up and reading the blurb. But I was strong and put it back, and was rewarded when I next visited my library. And that evening I found out about the R.I.P. IV Challenge. Coincidence or what?
The Library of Shadows has an extremely clever premise. There are two types of people in this world: ordinary folk and Lectors, divided into transmitters and receivers, who can manipulate the very act of reading to influence people and events. The Bibilophile Society, an ancient and secret sect, keeps watch over the lectors to ensure there is no misuse of power.
The story begins with half Italian, half Danish Jon Campelli, a brilliant lawyer, being given the highly publicised Remer case by his law firm. This is a case which will make or break him, and Remer is a suitably wealthy and shadowy character. At the same time, his estranged father Luca, owner of Libri di Luca, an antiquarian bookshop in the heart of Copenhagen, is found dead of a heart attack. The role of Libri di Luca and the Bibliophile Society coupled with unsettling events surrounding the shop convince Jon and his father’s friends that Luca was murdered. With the help of Katherina, a powerful receiver, Jon is activated into the Bibliophile Society and is soon chasing after his father’s murderer, unravelling events from twenty years ago that split the Bibilophile Society and the painful memory of his mother’s death.
From Denmark to Egypt, Birkegaard’s novel is a fast paced thriller packed with intelligent ideas. You can feel his love of books and everything literary shining through. I so wanted to like this book. I really did. Although I could visualise the story as a film (part X-men, part Indiana Jones), and don’t get me wrong, it was interesting and cleverly written, it didn’t altogether captivate me. I finished it and was just relieved it was over. It left me feeling it could have been so much more.
I’m not exactly sure what the problem is. I don’t usually have issues with translations; even the glaring Americanisms of Haruki Murakami’s translations don’t put me off. Murakami’s story just pulls me back in and I don’t give it another thought. It may be the pacing of the plot, the predictable ending or the one dimensional characters with whom I never fully sympathised. The most interesting person was Luca Campelli and he was dead in the first chapter.
All in all, The Library of Shadows has an intelligent idea at its core and is set in an exciting location, but I struggled to finish it. Maybe your experience might be different. Let me know.