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. (Goodreads)
The Midnight Library first came to my attention because of Amber. She brought it up one time when we were talking, so I decided to add it to my Kindle. The poor book sat there for months and months until I saw that is was the Goodreads Choice 2020 Winner for Fiction and decided, finally, to pick it up. To be honest, I actually didn’t know what the book was about. I have a tendency to pick up books that have library, book shop, or something along those lines without question. Since Amber mentioned it, I thought it was going to be a fantasy. Nope.
The first line of the book is “Nineteen years before she decided to die, Nora Seed sat in the warmth of the small library at Hazeldene School in the town of Bedford.” Now, the sentence, for me, was incredibly off putting. The last thing I wanted to do was start my year off reading a book about suicide. I wasn’t really in the mood to sob my life away and think about my own existence, but I stuck with it. The short chapters really helped, so I didn’t feel like I was reading a sad story. The pace was really quick, actually. The best part – I didn’t cry! Not a sad story, but a hopeful story.
If you like books that deal with the afterlife and about regret, this is a good book for you. I love reading different and unique takes on what happens when we die, or almost die like Nora Seed. In fact, The Midnight Library reminded me of The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom in a way. Another book that deals with what happens when you die, but doesn’t shove religion down your throat. Not that there is anything wrong with religion. I just don’t want to feel like the author is trying to convert me. I want a book that encourages me to think, which is exactly what this book did.
Speaking of thinking, one of my absolute favourite elements of this story was all the philosophy. See, Mom, my philosophy degree finally came in handy! Anyways, it’s not something I see often, and with a book that is dealing with big topics like being, knowing, space, identity, time, and cause (hey-ooo metaphysics), it makes sense that we have these cool references. Now, paired with mental health, it was a dynamic combo. I actually credit philosophy with helping with my anxiety. It’s such a great way of teaching yourself how to look at things from multiple perspectives rather than allowing yourself to tunnel vision into a panic attack. More people should read philosophy.
I gave this book four stars because I absolutely love what it set out to do — discuss the power of choosing and regretting. On the other hand, I couldn’t really stand Nora. I understand she is in this situation because she has attempted suicide and is given the opportunity, while she is in between life and death, to explore how her life could have been. First, she looks at her book of regrets, and slowly undoes them by changing the choices that would lead her to a different outcome. OK, cool. I am following. Though, her reluctance to find good anywhere she went began to frustrate me. For a philosophy student, she could be dense sometimes at what the library was trying to show her.
My emotions were running high while reading this book, which is probably a good indicator that the writing is spot on. At first I didn’t like how Nora was put into these other lives without knowing how she got there. She would just wake up in another “Nora Life” and not have any memories of anyone or anything a part from her “root” life. I was on edge as I watched her navigate how to fake know so-and-so and fit into a life she wasn’t a part of building (if that makes sense). Of course, this all came full circle as we eventually learn that she will start to remember and forget her old life when she finds a new life she wants to keep. However, I would also argue that it didn’t give Nora a fair opportunity to integrate into her new life. She had “root” Nora feelings as she experienced “other” Nora’s life. It’s the one thing that didn’t quite fit with me. Though, I suppose the purpose is for her to want to go back to her “root” life.
Overall, I found the book refreshing. It came at the perfect time, too. I was just saying I needed to read a good fiction book. I wish they were easier to find! I definitely have plans to try reading another Haig book. If this is how he writes, I’m here for it!
Have you read The Midnight Library? How do you feel about fiction books that take on big concepts?