The Librarianist (Patrick deWitt) – Book Review

Bob Comet is the Librarianist. And who is Bob Comet?

Patrick deWitt has long since held acclaim as the celebrated author of literary works such as familial farce French Exit and darkly comic Western tale The Sisters Brothers, and the Canadian-American writer has now turned to what has been pitched as a testament to the ‘introvert’s condition’ with his latest release The Librarianist.

The Librarianist follows Bob Comet, a retired librarian who stumbles across a local sheltered living centre in his neighbourhood after helping a confused resident find her way back home. Finding friendship and purpose within the centre, Bob’s narrative folds in on itself to explore the interior life of a quiet, ordinary man (Bob, for his own sake, feels so Tom Hanks-coded, the casting in the inevitable film feels… well, inevitable).

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deWitt’s strengths here lie twofold, in his ability to humanely characterise the players of this fictional world, and also in bringing a sense of humour and levity to what could be a serious, staid plot. deWitt ensures that the reader cares about Bob, using a technique not unlike that of The Grand Budapest Hotel, hiding lengthy flashbacks within lengthy flashbacks, delving into Bob’s experiences with a librarian-mentor, his marriage to the enchanting Connie Augustine, and his tumultuous childhood, all populated with characters who orbit Bob’s languid inner world. Highlights include Maria, the dependable nurse who all but runs the centre, Ethan, Bob’s charismatic best friend in the 1950s, and Ida and Lucy, a pair of eccentric performer sisters who Bob encounters in his WWII-set childhood.

If there’s any complaint to be made about The Librarianist, it’s in the uneven characterisation of Bob, a man continually torn between interpersonal passivity and intrapersonal agency, a man who will flee a negligent household as a boy, but who will refuse to advocate for himself as a young adult. This fluctuating narrative does help tie into Bob’s overall arc towards agency, but given the shifting narrative timeline, it does feel incongruous to have a lead who facilitates from impulsive, impassioned actions, to passive emotional reactions, even for a self-confessed introvert.

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Anchored by a low-key, yet sweetly resonant ending, and an act one revelation that helps power the heart of the novel, The Librarianist is a well-written examination of one’s life and the acts that can allow for reinvention and transformation. Bob Comet might not be the typical protagonist for a reflective novel such as this, but with deWitt’s nuance and lightness of touch at hand, it makes for an enjoyable, ultimately affirming novel about the human condition.

The Librarianist is out on 6th July from Bloomsbury Publishing.

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