Imagine, you have just died. I know, kinda crappy, right? But! At least all your earthly suffering is over. Whatever caused your death is no longer trImagine, you have just died. I know, kinda crappy, right? But! At least all your earthly suffering is over. Whatever caused your death is no longer troubling you and you are restored to the prime of your youth and deposited into a vast, almost infinite library filled with every book that could ever be written and where you do not age, you have perfect memory and are able to recall every word you have ever read and every event that has ever happened to you, your every injury and even death are healed overnight, your every culinary desire is met by an automated kiosk and you are surrounded by people who are pretty similar to you in background. You would think that you are in heaven, wouldn't you? Or at least a book geek's version of it. Yet, you'd be entirely and completely wrong. Because you are actually in hell. Or one version of it based on a short story by Borges The Library of Babel.
Until I read the book, just the concept of a library as hell was complete anathema to my mind. The story tells you straight up, however, that this is hell, as you are greeted by a polite but very red demon against the backdrop of bodies burning endlessly in tar and lava and told that you are here because the one true faith is Zoroastrianism, so bad luck for you unless you worship the Lord of Light and Wisdom Ahura Mazda. Here he is by the way:
(I seriously need to go read up on this stuff as this is the second book made of awesome which I have read in the last year which is based, at least in part, on Zoroastrian mythology).
The devil, of course, is in the detail and comes down to how you define a "book". Because for me, you see, in order to be a "book" something needs to not just be shaped as a book (in fact, with the advent of e-books, it doesn't even need to be shaped as a book at all) but also have content capable of conveying meaning (even if it is meaning which I am not capable of understanding). Whereas in the Zoroastrian hell library, a "book" is essentially a paper book of a set size, 410 pages long and with a set number of lines per page and letters per line consisting of about 95 characters on the standard English keyboard arranged in all possible variations which gives us 95 to the power of 1,312,000 possible books, i.e. quite a bit more than there are electrons in the universe and a library that's about 7,16 to the power of 1,297,369 light years wide and deep but the vast majority of which are just a random arrangement of letters and symbols which carries no meaning whatsoever.
Your task in this hell is to find your earthly life story without errors. "If your story is accepted, you will be admitted into a glorious heaven filled with wonders and joys beyond your imagination." Oh, and "you are here to lean something. Don't try to figure out what it is. This can be frustrating and unproductive".
This book was mind-blowing. It is a book about philosophy and religion and the meaning of life – all things that normally make me cringe and move slowly away but here it was all done in such a gentle non-patronising non-head-bashing way, it was fascinating. My only complaint is that it was not long enough. At the start, it is described as a book found by the narrator in the library. So where, I ask you, are the other 302 pages then? Yet, this is a minor complaint. For all its brevity, there is so much packed into the pages of this book. Love, loss, violence, horror, insanity, cattle mentality, sorrow, hope, hopelessness, infinity are just a few of the themes. I'm sure I will be picking this up again sooner rather than later....more