3 Cheers For “The Librarianist,” A Novel By Patrick deWitt

A LitStack Review

by J.S. Hood

Solitude, the power of books and stories, and the importance of finding one’s place in the world: in The Librarianist, these themes converge in a powerful and moving way. 

The Librarianist and author Patrick deWitt

Hitchcock Would Want To Write Like Patrick deWitt

Next to none of us can capture a moment and show it back in full detail, as if it were recorded. And where would be the fun in that long, drawn out, boring listing of the things that made up that moment? But what if the moment could be made to linger, as if a ribbon, layered or braided, into someone’s perceptions, just subtle enough that human curiosity and a hunger for narrative fills in what is not there with the reader’s own inferences about the moment, and on an even larger, macro level, inferences and assumptions about the scene that build from that moment and that spring forth almost wholly in the reader’s imagination. 

This would be akin to perfect suspense, where the actions all happen subjectively, and if Alfred Hitchcock had wanted to be a writer, he would have wanted to be Patrick deWitt, whose most important and effective scenes in The Librarianist, occur not on the page, but in the reader’s imagination, indeed, as if the reader is in fact the Librarianist who peruses their own mind for references to the past in this stunning achievement of a subjective novel.

Patience Rewarded

Patrick deWitt’s The Librarianist is a novel with many rewards. It has a quiet, understated tone. Though it could be that the narrative seems episodic, that minor fault is overcome by a thoroughly engaging journey through the life of Bob Comet. The major action of the novel often occurs offstage, leaving the reader to infer what is happening based on the characters’ reactions and the information that deWitt disseminates with a controlled, keen agenda. But this is not a criticism. In fact, it is one thing that makes The Librarianist such a unique and enjoyable reading experience. The novel works on two levels at once: what is on the page, and what is being evoked in the reader’s imagination.

The novel’s protagonist, Bob Comet, is a retired librarian who is living a quiet and solitary life, and is volunteering at a local older adult assisted living facility. He is a man who loves books and stories, and he finds comfort in the order and predictability of his life. He reads to the residents at the facility. However, Bob’s innocent and hopeful life turns upside down when he meets a mysterious woman named Connie, who seems to exist in a state of catatonia.

Connie is a woman who is lost and alone. She has no memory of who she is or where she comes from. Bob eventually must confront the fact of Connie. In doing so, Bob is forced to confront his own demons and to question the choices that he has made.


A Person Of Few Deeds

Bob Comet, largely a passive observer of life, seems to watch the world go by from the safety of his library. When Bob first meets Connie, he is hesitant to get involved in her life. He is afraid of the unknown, and he is worried about what might happen. He tells Connie that he is “not a man of action.” When Bob and Connie go to a cemetery, Bob watches a funeral procession from a distance, not brave enough to approach the mourners or to offer his condolences. When Bob and Connie go to the library, Bob is more fascinated by the “human comedy” that is unfolding around him than by Connie.

Bob’s passivity is evident in the way that he lives his life, and in the way that he gets through his failed marriage. He is content to exist in his own world, and is not interested in changing anything. He is afraid of taking risks, and he is afraid of change. This is why he is so hesitant to get involved in Connie’s life. He knows that she will challenge him and force him to step outside of his comfort zone. 

However, Bob’s passivity also has its benefits. It allows him to observe the world around him with a clear and unbiased eye. He is not clouded by his own emotions or desires, and he is able to see things for what they really are. This is why he is so fascinated by the “human comedy.” He sees the world as a stage, and he is content to simply watch the play unfold.

In the end, Bob’s passivity is what allows him to find happiness and fulfillment in life. He is a man who is content with his own company, and he is able to find joy in the simple things in life. He is also a man who is able to appreciate and take a bite of the beauty and wonder of the world around him. As the end of the novel reminds him, Bob, Bob, Bob.

Is He A Bore Or The Life Of The Novel?

Given that the main character of the novel is largely passive, you would expect to encounter the general faults of this conceit. But Patrick deWitt uses a number of clever techniques to round out a passive character, and he lets the reader inhabit and engage in the character traits usually associated with persons of action.

One of the ways in which deWitt is able to make Bob Comet’s passivity interesting and engaging is by using humor. For example, when Bob and Connie go to the bar, Bob sits quietly at the counter and observes the other patrons. He is not interested in talking with anyone and is content to simply watch the world go by. deWitt describes Bob’s passivity in a humorous way by saying that he is “watching the human comedy” unfold.

deWitt also smartly includes internal dialogue to reveal Bob’s thoughts and feelings, even though Bob is a passive character. For example, when Bob first meets Connie, he is hesitant to get involved in her life. He is afraid of the unknown, and he is worried about what might happen. deWitt uses internal dialogue to reveal Bob’s thoughts and feelings, even though Bob does not say anything.

deWitt also uses symbolism to convey Bob’s passivity. For example, Bob’s job as a librarian is symbolic of his passivity. Librarians are often seen as being passive and introverted. They are responsible for organizing and maintaining books, but they are not typically involved in the creation of the books themselves. deWitt contrasts Connie with Bob to highlight Bob’s passivity. For example, Bob’s passivity is contrasted with Connie’s assertiveness. Connie is a woman who knows what she wants, and she is not afraid to go after it. This contrast helps to make Bob’s passivity more noticeable and more interesting.

Lastly, deWitt also uses setting to convey Bob’s passivity. For example, the library where Bob works is a quiet and peaceful place. This setting reflects Bob’s own quiet and peaceful nature. The library is also a place where Bob feels safe and comfortable. This suggests that Bob is afraid of change and that he is reluctant to step outside of his comfort zone.

By using these techniques, deWitt is able to make Bob Comet’s passivity interesting and engaging. 


She Wore A String Tied Around Her Wrist

While there are several sublime moments we could celebrate in this novel, we have to turn to our favorite, the rendering of the scene involving string tried around Connie’s wrist.

The Librarianist, Bob Comet, attempts to tie a string around his wrist after Connie has told him she tied a string around her wrist. She of course has lied; her lover tied the string around her wrist. The scene focuses on Bob trying and failing to tie the string around his own wrist, simultaneously implying in our imaginations an entire scene with Connie as her lover ties the string instead. It is this duality of what is on the page and what is evoked in our imaginations that makes this novel so compelling, and so moving. The scenes that take place in our imaginations are as tightly controlled by the author as the scenes on the page.

The Librarianist has several of these wonderful moments of duality, where the reader’s imagination is fully involved in the construction of this novel. It’s as if the reader steps into the shoes of Bob Comet and walks around, makes decisions, remembers memories not their own but Bob’s.

DeWitt is a master of the layered narrative. He builds his stories slowly, layer by layer, adding new details and perspectives along the way. This results in a novel that is rich and complex, with multiple levels of meaning. 

Some of the best moments in The Librarianist are the quiet, intimate scenes between the characters. These are the moments where deWitt’s writing truly shines. He has a keen eye for human detail, and creates characters that feel real and believable. When Bob is a young man, he meets two strange sisters on the road, and their characters will make you laugh and cry, the characters and the scenes they inhabit are drawn to perfection by the author.

Patrick deWitt’s The Librarianist is a novel that defies expectations. It is a quiet, meditative book that is full of humor, insight, and wisdom. The novel’s fullest and most rewarding moments occur when the story plays out dually not only on the page but off stage, in the reader’s imagination. In these scenes, deWitt explores the complex emotions of his characters and the ways in which they are coping with their grief and loss. The Librarianist is a novel that is to be savored. deWitt’s writing is beautiful and evocative. He creates a world that is both familiar and strange. The characters are complex and well-developed. 

A Culmination Of His Writing

Patrick deWitt’s novel The Librarianist is a culmination of his writing in a number of ways. It is a novel that draws on many of the themes and ideas explored in his previous works. The themes of solitude, the power of books and stories, and the importance of finding one’s place in the world. In The Librarianist, these themes are brought together in a powerful and moving way.

The characters in The Librarianist are people struggling to find their way in the world, and they are all deeply flawed. This is something that is common to many of deWitt’s characters. deWitt’s writing is known for its humor, its insight, and its beauty. All of these qualities are on display here.

Overall, The Librarianist is a novel that shows off Patrick deWitt’s writing in all of the best ways. It is a novel that is both funny and moving. If you are looking for a novel that is thought-provoking, moving, and entertaining, then you should read The Librarianist.

Publisher Ecco Harper Collins
Publish Date July 4, 2023
ISBN 9780063085121

Other Books By Patrick DeWitt


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