The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel - review by Allan Massie

Allan Massie

The Place of the Cure of the Soul

The Library at Night


Yale University Press 372pp £18.99

The library in which I have at long last collected my books began life as a barn sometime in the fifteenth century, perched on a small hill south of the Loire. Here, in the last years before the Christian era, the Romans erected a temple to Dionysus to honour the god of this wine-producing area; twelve centuries later, a Christian church replaced the god of drunken ecstasy with the god who turned his blood into wine.

So begins Alberto Manguel’s enchanting new book, and I quote these opening sentences which, apart from the mention of his library, have nothing ostensibly to do with his theme, because they give a sense, immediately, of how he ranges over time, civilisations and cultural history. His subject, as his title indicates, is the library, and he gives us: the Library as Myth; as Order; as Space; as Power; as Shadow; as Shape; as Chance; as Workshop; as Mind; as Island; as Survival; as Oblivion; as Imagination; as Identity; as Home.

The list of topics or, if you prefer, classifications, will suggest that the book itself resists any attempt to summarise it, except inasmuch as it may be called a celebration of reading and of the persistence of the written word throughout the ages. Indeed, you could no more summarise this

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