French translation by Carine Bruy. The french title is something like “the library of battered hearts”, which doesn’t have much to do with the original title – and I gathered that from my complete fluency in Swedish, of course!
Sara, a young Swedish librarian, recently out of a job, decides to travel to Broken Wheel, Illinois, to go and meet her epistolary friend Amy Harris, a charming old woman she has been corresponding with about books for a while, but when she arrives in this almost- abandoned town in the middle of the fields of Mid-West, she learns that Amy has just passed away.
Disoriented and without a plan, she decides to stay in Broken Wheel, where she meets the charming community that struggles to keep the town alive, and opens a library with Amy’s books. When her VISA expires, the community, charmed by the new spirit she has brought into the town, devise of a way to get her to stay.
I’ll preface this, as I feel it is important, that I don’t mind happy, feel-good books. I sometimes need them. I love books about libraries, books about books, and this one, with all his bookish references did not disappoint me in that sense (though some of Sara’s recommendations are frankly not believable: Bridget Jones as a must read for a 50 year-old ex-alcoholic taciturn male?come on, that is stretching it a bit). But I was wondering throughout the book if it wouldn’t have been too much to ask for a bit of complexity in the characters, just to make them, once again, believable.
There are all the stereotypes of the small town folks with the added twist of it being the “town of absolute tolerance even if we have our “colorful characters” (i.e. supposed intolerant assholes)”: an old religious spinster, full of self-righteousness, a token gay couple, a”matter-of-fact-masculine-bar-woman”, a token black guy, the resident Mr Darcy of course, and despite all their differences they all, miraculously, find love and acceptance and a new meaning in their lives just because a timid and quite frankly grumpy Swedish book worm, who introduces herself by saying “books are better than people”, comes around.
There is one passage that comes to mind to give you an example of unbelievable interactions between them: the “religious-old-maid” comes to the library to complain that Sara has put an erotic gay shelf, which she considers as pornography, and Sara tells her, in not more than a few sentences, that she considers judging books and people before reading them as “unchristian” and “anti-American”, which apparently floors the old maid, who says “she is going to think about”, and borrows one of those books, without even getting a bit aggravated at being insulted that way. She then goes on to find perfect love with a bisexual young man that happened to passed by, and so from this small interaction all of her principles. that had been so certain for years before, just disappear.
The book aims – and openly references – at the ambiance of “the Guernsey potato-peel literary society ” (I never remember its actual title, but you know what I mean), and if it is indeed full of well-meaning, heart warming characters, it doesn’t have its humour, it is a lot flatter.
And I know it is probably charming if you’re willing to overlook everything I just said and suspend your disbelief for a while. It doesn’t pretend to be anything else than a feel-good book, probably, but I’ll bet you can have books that have happy, heart-warming endings and an interesting story and complex characters. I know some, actually.
So read this if you want a cute tale of the power of books to unite people and resuscitate small towns, and don’t care too much about plot, or characters. (I’m not very good at advertising for it, I’m aware of it, I am trying though:) It is not that bad.(yep, that’s as good as I can get)
I had chosen it to be the “Swedish stop” of the #AW80books travel, but it is really not about Sweden, so maybe I’ll say it counts as Idaho instead and might give another try to Sweden. Have never read any Läckberg, for example, would you recommend it?