Not since Harry Potter have I devoured a book like this. The writing – fantastic. The plot – even more fantastic. The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins is a dark comedy, twisty mystery, and modern mythology, rolled up into one magnificent debut novel.
Twelve orphaned children are adopted by a man with supernatural abilities named Father. He assigns them each a catalog of expertise, which they study day in and day out in the library. Carolyn’s catalog is languages. She can speak every language ever spoken – from Latin to low dragon. David’s catalog is war, Jennifer’s is healing, Alicia’s is the future, Michael’s is animals, and so on. One day when they are in their 30s, Father disappears. Suddenly they can no longer access the Library. A dark, tentacled force threatens the world, and the children go to great lengths in their search for Father.
I’ve never read a book that unraveled as surprisingly as this one. Just when you think the scope is huge – we’re talking about Gods, universes, and the very essence of humanity – it gets huger. A novel that starts off about a “librarian” walking down a back road in the middle of the night ends up involving lions, supernatural abilities, and what is ominously referred to as the “far future.” Every other page seemed to have a plot twist that I could never have predicted. Plus it has moments of absolute hilarity – a couple of the non-supernatural characters introduced mid-way through are witty and wry. For example Steve – an ex-thief turned Buddhist-plumber, and “Erwin” a decorated war hero who insists on being called by his first name and swears at the president.
All the way through, plot strands are introduced that could be spun into entire other novels. For example: a walking godlike iceberg in Northern Europe who’s gone missing, Margaret’s seemingly enjoyable trips to the afterlife, or Quoth – the highly poetic language of storms. Scott Hawkins has enough beautiful ideas to keep even the most imaginative of readers on their toes.
I found the scope and writing style reminiscent of Neil Gaiman and David Mitchell. The whole “kids studying in a library to hone their supernatural abilities” premise reminded me a tiny bit of Harry Potter – but this is a very different world, with very different rules. First of all “there is no such thing as magic” in this book. Secondly, anything goes – no matter how absurd, elaborate, or ruthless it might be.
I will say – I hope this book becomes popular enough to warrant a new cover design. The cover is fine, but it’s a little cheesy for the book. Now that I’ve finished, I understand why layers and layers of pages are encircling the old house – but I think the cover gives off more of a historical or time-travel thriller vibe which isn’t the case. I’d like to see an dark, minimalist, illustrated cover with a beautiful mysterious font – and maybe one symbol from the story. Probably the bull oven.
If you can’t tell, this book has left a deep impression on me. All I can do now is reread it, and hope that Scott Hawkins has enough time to quickly write something else just as magnificent.
What was your favourite book of 2015?