Romance, murder mysteries, hidden notes: the public library is a fertile source for artistic inspiration. I’m not talking about the classic works of literature and bestsellers that line the shelves. I’m not talking about the DVD or CD collections or orderly archives either. Let’s face it; the public library attracts all sorts of strange characters. The people watching can be entertaining, and occasionally disturbing.
These eccentric patrons might not be so enthralling to the library staff that attempts to maintain order while serving the public. Toronto author Martha Baillie’s 2009 novel The Incident Report is about one of these librarians, the concise protagonist Miriam. It is written as a series of reports filed by her that range from a few lines to a few pages. Piece by piece, Miriam documents the chaos that is her work life and slowly her personal life filters in as well. The nature of the work requires a certain detachment, so Miriam’s personality, her insecurities and fears, are semi-obscured behind day-to-day dealings with drunks and porn-viewers.
Globe and Mail reviewer Karen Luscombe calls Baillie’s novel a “psychological maelstrom.” As Miriam attempts to track and order the quotidian events that define her life, the chaotic nature of human interaction derails her time and again. From falling for the mysterious young man who reads children’s literature in the park at lunchtime, to discovering occasionally threatening handwritten notes hidden around the library, Miriam’s incident reports are fascinating.