The Weekly Weird-off: The Library at Mount Char vs. Crash

The Weekly Weird-off: The Library at Mount Char vs. Crash

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Welcome to the Weirdathon's FINAL Weekly Weird-off! And may I just say, I think it features some of the weirdest books we've encountered. Here your word gladiators will be fighting to the death to determine which weird book is the weirdest. Welcome our guests, Kerry from Entomology of a Bookworm and Heather from Bits & Books!

This debate features The Library at Mount Char by Paul Hawkins and Crash by J.G. Ballard. Full disclosure: I've read The Library at Mount Char, but I'll only take into consideration Kerry's representation of it. If I don't feel like I'm being unbiased enough, I'll call in a judge who has read neither. 

WARNING: This debate contains some graphic NSFW language. Do not continue if you have an impressionable child reading over your shoulder or anything. 

Each contestant is allowed to rebut their opponent's answer before moving on to their answer. Ding ding ding, let the fight begin!

The Weekly Weird-off: The Library at Mount Char vs. Crash. Which book is weirder?

Kerry - Entomology of a Bookworm  VS.   Heather - Bits & Books


Kerry: Oook it’s pretty much impossible to summarize this book, but I’ll try? On its surface, it’s about a group of twelve Librarians who have been raised from childhood by a brutal, intelligent, and now-missing man they know as Father. As the novel opens, each of the Librarians is using his or her knowledge of his or her catalog (War, Death, Languages, etc.) to try to locate their lost patriarch and regain access to the Library. This whole strange world sits literally inside of our own (the Library is tucked inside a perfectly forgettable suburban development), which makes Hawkins’ exploration of the relationship between power and knowledge (and possibly fate) all the more intriguing. And sometimes hilarious. And a lot dark.

Heather: Basically the book is about the increasingly intimate and perverse relationship between humans and technology (think about all the places you take your phone, like THE TOILET, for example). But instead of writing some sweet sci-fi or even an essay, Ballard (who is also the narrator) decided to write a book about a bunch of people with a full on car crash fetish. Basically, Ballard gets into a car crash, watches the man in the other car die, then starts up an affair with the dead man’s wife. All pretty standard, until Ballard decides that the car crash is the catalyst for a kind of sexual awakening and he begins to develop a fetish for crashes, crash victims, and cars in general that become more extreme as the story progresses.


Kerry - Answer: I’m not even sure where to start. To begin with, the novel starts smack dab in the middle of things: no build-up, no explanation, no hand-holding. Hawkins throws us right in and we’re left to figure things out as we go (which is like 50% of the fun of the book, the other 50% being how clever it all is). The theoretically inimitable and all-knowing Father has mysteriously disappeared (dead? Lost? Stuck somewhere? Who knows!) before the book begins, and his disappearance coincides with the start of some kind of forcefield around the Library that prevents the Librarians from going home. And remember, the “Library” appears--on the outside at least--as a boring old house in a boring old suburb surrounded by boring old people. Except the Librarians call those people “the dead ones” because they are in fact not alive, but living in a sort of suspended animation to make the neighborhood appear real to others (like lost FedEx drivers and curious door-to-door salespeoples).

So the Librarians are looking for Father and waiting for Nobunaga, who may be some kind of courtier or some kind of god or maybe both?, and also happens to be a talking tiger. Which is all pretty freaking weird on its own, but then Hawkins starts building in the backstory of how the Librarians came to be Librarians, and how Father disappeared, and we’ve got disappearing parents, a suspicious bull-shaped barbeque grill that locks from the outside, kidnapped lions set loose, and a staged house robbery that may or may not be a cover up of the murder of a police detective who may or may not have come back from the dead to arrest the robber who shot the detective.

It’s like every page has some new detail and every detail leads to a whole new understanding of the world of Mount Char and it’s all very chaotic in the best kind of mind-fuckery way.

Heather - Rebuttal: That does all sound pretty weird. But I would suggest that the outward appearance of the Library is kind of like the tents in Harry Potter - normal on the outside, extra roomy on the inside. I like to think of that as fantastic and magical, not too weird. But you’ve kind got me on everything else - especially the zombie type neighbours.
Heather - Answer: It’s actually really hard to think of weird things that happen in the plot because the whole book is just in your face ALL OF THE TIME.
There’s loads of sex on the back seat of cars and the aforementioned people with a fetish. You can probably find that in any book, but these people are REALLY obsessed with car sex and wounds created by car accidents, and they actually get into accidents on purpose and re-enact crashes because that’s the kind of shit that gets them off. If it was just one person doing this, it’d be less weird, but there’s a bunch of them - like a little car-sex cult/club.
There’s all sorts of body fluids mentioned on just about every single page, whether it be vomit, urine, semen, or blood. Ballard even sexualises his own rescue after his initial accident, imagining one of the firemen who rescue him putting his penis under Ballard’s armpit like a weird sex/rescue act.
Then there’s this guy named Vaughan who places his penis on a crashed car and traces around it with chalk because why the hell not?


Kerry - Rebuttal: Is it weird that my initial reaction to all of that is… “ewwww”? I mean, the chalk outline of a penis on a crashed car is definitely weird. I feel like the fetishness of the rest must be very in your face, but there are absolutely those who would argue that fetishes aren’t weird, just a normal part of sexuality.

Kerry - Answer: I’ll be honest, my answer here is mostly no. The subject is weird, the plot is weird, the characters are weird, but I didn’t find the structure or format weird at all. It starts in the middle of things, but the sense of WTF confusion at the beginning feels very intentional on the author’s part, and the plot moves pretty seamlessly between present and past moments to fill in what the hell is going on. So, no. Not really a weird format. 

Heather - Rebuttal: I have no rebuttal for this...

Heather - Answer: I’m pretty much the same - the whole thing was pretty straight forward in terms of format. The writing was pretty out there - everything was really clinical and textbook terminology, so that made it pretty uncomfortable to read - it just made it a lot more intimate. Like this: “In his vision of a car-crash with the actress, Vaughan was obsessed by many wounds and impacts … above all by the wounds to her genitalia, her uterus pierced by  the heraldic beak of the manufacturer’s medallion, his semen emptying across the luminescent dials that registered for ever the last temperature and fuel levels of the engine”. Imagine 188 pages of that. Not normal or comfortable.


Kerry - Rebuttal: Dude, not normal OR comfortable.
Kerry - Answer: Well we have the 12 Librarians (who may be siblings). The one who studies the Languages catalog is in the opening chapter in a bar wearing bike shorts, rainbow leg warmers, and galoshes--while bribing an ex-con to rob a house. Her brother (whose catalog is War) is waiting for her at home in a purple tutu wearing a helmet he’s made of the blood and hair of his victims. Rachel communes with the ghosts of children to predict possible futures while Margaret is killed over and over and over again to visit the lands of the dead--but she comes back to life when Jennifer, who studies Healing, reanimates her. And Michael speaks animal (and not just to Nobunaga, the talking tiger, because that animal speaks human, of course).

Even the non-librarians are a touch weird, like the army veteran who became an art teacher who left education to work in government intelligence. And all those “dead ones.”

Heather - Rebuttal: I’ve read this book, so I can attest to the interestingness of the characters (I especially liked Michael). But I don’t think that less than regular clothing should be a stand out factor of weirdness, because people who live in “other world” type places always dress weird. Like the wizards in Harry Potter (apparently I can only think of Potter examples, sorry).
Heather - Answer: A group of people who ALL have a weird car-sex fetish? How can they not all be interesting? But Vaughan definitely takes the cake. Aside from tracing around his genitals with chalk, he also drives around town looking for crashes to photograph (because that’s his hobby) and he likes to pose prostitutes on the back seat of the car so that they mimic the dead bodies of the people he’s seen and photographed in accidents (it was a big car - so that’s how he managed this). He’s also really obsessed with the actress, Elizabeth Taylor, and imagines them dying together in an accident.
I think Ballard writing himself as the narrator is pretty interesting too. I had a really hard time separating the author from the character because they were the same person, and while I don’t believe Ballard the author had a fetish of this kind, he was pretty fucked up to be able to come up with all of this.

Kerry - Rebuttal: The more I read of your answers, the more I feel like every part of your book is a “what the fuck moment.” I don’t have a true rebuttal to your last answer besides saying that I’m a bit terrified to see how you answer this question.


Kerry: I referenced this a bit earlier, but there’s a moment pretty early on when one of the Librarians bribes an ex-con to rob a house, only the house is full of the reanimated corpse of a dead detective who tries to arrest the robber until the Librarian shoots him and then takes out the robber and then cries a lot and apologizes in every language ever known, and it’s simultaneously very heartbreaking and very confusing, and very much when I realized that I would never be able to predict what insane twists Hawkins will take from page to page.

Heather: Sexual penetration of a LEG WOUND caused by a car crash (obvs) - the owner of the penis *ahem* finishes in there and everything.


Kerry: Briefly? Ok… we’ve got missing gods and a suburban house that holds all the knowledge of the universe guarded by reanimated zombies and previously inhabited by twelve Librarians who have lived a cruel and unusual life under the reign of the now-missing Father. They hide in plain sight but are entirely strange and recognizable as not of this world--even though they are of this world, in a way--and they can die and talk to animals and come back to life and heal anything and solve all math problems and generally answer every question ever asked, and they wear crazy clothes which are a kind of weird given that they do live in America even if they aren’t really living in the same America as the rest of us. And it’s just a mindfuck of a read, and Hawkins makes it read like a new novel every time the page turns, and it’s totally batshit insane.

Heather: I don’t feel like Kerry’s book has failed in the weirdness sense. I’ve read it and I agree that it’s pretty weird. Having said that, if you want to read weird that makes you confused then go for ‘The Library at Mount Char’. If you want to read weird that basically has you saying “what the fuck am I reading?” all the way through, then ‘Crash’ is what you want. Weird sex, car lovin’, body fluid on every page, wound penetration, crash fetishes, several characters partaking in this fetishism; stalkerish level obsession with a film star and imagining all the ways she could die in a crash AND planning that crash; clinical in your face language. All together that’s pretty fucking weird and easily the most weird/messed up book I’ve ever read.


This was legitimately the hardest deliberation I've had to do. I spent days wondering what "weird" even means and how it could possibly be judged. How these two disparate books could be compared. I talked to multiple people about it. And I'm still not 100% sure about my decision, but a decision must be made. As one of my anonymous bias-checkers said upon reviewing the debate, "In Crash, if you take out the weird car part out of the sex, it's just a book about sex." Granted, I haven't read the book, so I'm sure I don't know the intricacies of the weirdness. But that being said, The Library at Mount Char offers up a whole slew of bizarre plot points and characters. World building has to take place to hold the strangeness.

So while Crash is definitely more fucked up and gives The Wasp Factory a run for its money, The Library at Mount Char has a smorgasbord of weird elements. The range of it should not be ignored in a contest such as this. I hesitantly say that The Library at Mount Char wins this round. Kerry wins the weird e-book bundle! Thank you both so much for playing!

Who would you declare winner in this battle of wits and words?


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