Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on for ever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be different if you had made other choices…Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?
Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?
In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s enchanting new novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.
‘The only way to learn is to live.’
For the better part of a year, The Midnight Library has kept popping up on my Instagram feed accompanied by rave review after rave review, so I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon. But even without these outstanding commendations, I was immediately hooked by the premise of this novel. One day Nora Seed, a thirty-something single woman from Bedford, who struggles with situational depression and views her life as a continuous series of regrets, decides to end her life. But, instead of dying she is transported to the Midnight Library, a place between life and death, where – guided by the librarian Mrs. Elm – she is given the chance to see what life might have been like if she had made different choices. As Nora jumps between the different lives that could have been, it raises the question: does the “best” life exist?
While reading this book I often wondered what my version of the Midnight Library would look like (a music shop, a video store, a restaurant?) and which person in my life would be the equivalent of Nora’s Mrs. Elm. However, it also made me reflect on the regrets that I’ve had in my life and whether I would have done anything differently if given the chance, and I’m sure that many readers did the same. It’s this characteristic of thoughtfulness and reflection that I loved most about The Midnight Library, and which made the narrative feel more personal and tangible.
This feeling was only enhanced by the novel’s writing style, which – although written from the third person perspective – gives the reader insight into Nora’s thought and feelings, and enables them to better relate to her character. As Nora learns to let go of her past regrets and focus on the possibilities of the present, so does the reader. Heartfelt and inspiring, The Midnight Library will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading it.
‘Sometimes just to say your own truth out loud is enough to find others like you.’
The author of The Midnight Library, Matt Haig, has been very vocal about his own struggle with anxiety and depression, and through his writing he has become an outspoken advocate for mental health awareness, something which comes across strongly in this book. At the start of the novel, Nora is in a very dark place; she’s lost her job, her brother isn’t speaking to her and now her only companion – a cat named Volts (short for Voltaire) – has died. This leads her to believe that her only escape is death. Inevitably, the book does touch on some very sensitive subjects like suicide, depression and anxiety – which might be triggering for some – but it is overwhelmingly optimistic, with sentiments like “never underestimate the big importance of small things” scattered throughout. I can say that after finishing The Midnight Library I felt uplifted, as though I were being enveloped in a big hug, and I believe that it will give hope and reassurance to those who are struggling.
‘Never underestimate the big importance of small things.’
Since this book has already received a gazillion reviews, most of what I’ve written in this post will not be unfamiliar to those who have read The Midnight Library, but in my view it deserves all the praise it has received. It’s witty, hopeful and beautifully written, and it is a book that I’d recommend to everyone. So if you’re searching for your next read, look no further! Just grab a cup of tea, snuggle under a blanket and enjoy the magic that is The Midnight Library…
‘We only need to be one person. We only need to feel one existence. We don’t have to do everything in order to be everything, because we are already infinite. While we are alive we always contain a future of multifarious possibility.’
Published: 13th August 2020 by Canongate Books Ltd
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy
Narration Style: Third person past tense
Format read: Paperback
Warnings: Suicide, depression, alcoholism, self-harm mentioned, terminal illness