Monday, November 24, 2008

Reader's Diary #418- Romesh Gunesekera: The Library

Short Story Monday

As a hobby, I went through a brief phase of genealogical research about 7 or 8 years back. Growing up we knew of no Mutfords outside of my father's family. There were 3 Mutford males in his family, and each of those had 1 son (me being 1 of the 3). And, unless the girls stopped changing their last names upon marriage, it was believed that the name would eventually die out. My surname is rare and as a general rule that makes it a little easier to research, but the Internet made things easier still.

It was a productive search, uncovering a few distant relatives in the U.S. and Ontario, and while there are no Mutfords currently living there, a small village in England called Mutford. When I say small, I mean small. According to the Wikipedia entry, Mutford "consists of a crossroads, at which there is a village store with a Post Office, and a residential street..." and on the Facebook group, "Mutford Appreciation Society," the recent news reads, "Car passed through village at 7.29pm. 8.15am non local spotted in post office."

A few weeks ago my wife booked us tickets to fly over and see Mutford in March. I've long known my ancestors were from England, it'll be nice to see what I can only assume to be part of our history. Can't wait to check out that post office!

I bring this up because Donald, the protagonist in "The Library," is also researching his family tree. However, he's the opposite of me: his ancestors moved to England, not away. Still, it was enough common ground to make the story appealing.

Donald is a likeable character, if somewhat dull. He reminded me of Akaky Akakievich in Gogol's "The Overcoat" in that both lives seem enriched only with banality. However, unlike Akaky, Donald actually catches a break...and then some. These breaks rest upon coincidence (or if you want to go down that road, fate). Coincidences happen in real-life all the time, yet when an author tries to stick one into a plot, more often they seem far-fetched. Gunesekera however, makes his coincidences seem entirely plausible.

It doesn't have a strong ending however, and as happened when I listened to Vincent Lam's "A Long Migration," I wasn't even sure if I'd managed to get the whole story. Maybe the ending had been left off my copy by mistake? But upon a second reading, I think it has more of an ending than I'd first acknowledged. It could be the first chapter of a novel, but then, it could also stand on its own.

If a mystery defines you, what happens when the mystery is solved?

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