An old man remembers: The Librarianist, by Patrick deWitt, reviewed

It’s a mark of how difficult Patrick deWittis to pigeonhole that I’m tempted to reach for reductive mash-ups to sell you his winning fifth novel. The lovechild of Elizabeth Strout and Wes Anderson? Katherine Heiny meets the Coen Brothers? It’s not quite any of that. On the surface, The Librarianist is his most conventional narrative yet (the Man Booker shortlisted The Sisters Brothers was an absurdist western; his other novels are similarly left field). A chance encounter leads the friendless, but ‘not unhappy per se’, retired librarian Bob Comet to volunteer at the Gambell-Reed Senior Center, where he forges new bonds and reflects on his past. But it’s odder and

Lorrie Moore’s latest novel is deeply troubling, but also consoling

Sometimes a novel’s means are so strange, however compelling its final effect on the reader, that a straightforward account of it will be most helpful. I’ve read, or part-read, this novel three times now. On the first reading I gave up, shaking my head. On the second I got to the end, but thought it absurdly wilful, self-absorbed and idiosyncratic to the point of whimsy. The third reading – something, after all, must have drawn me back – exerted an appalling power, and I emerged shaken, troubled, but also consoled. Take your pick. This is a book that is going to divide people, and one that can look very different