Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Midnight Library - Matt Haig

Summary: A dazzling novel about all the choices that go into a life well lived.  

Between life and death there is a library.  Up until now, Nora Seed's life has been full of misery and regret.  She feels she las let everyone down, including herself.  But things are about to change.  When she finds herself in the Midnight Library, she has a chance to make things right.

The books in the Midnight Library enable Nora to live as if she had done things differently.  Each one contains a different life, a possible world in which she made different choices that played out in an infinite number of ways, affecting everyone she knew as well as many people she never met.  With the help of an old friend, she can now undo every decision she regrets as she tries to work out her perfect life.  But things aren't always what she imagined they'd be and soon her choices place the library and herself in extreme danger.  

Before time runs out, she must answer the ultimate questions: What is the best way to life?  

(Summary from book flap - Image from

My Review:  I came across The Midnight Library while browsing my local indie bookstore.  The bookish title caught my attention and the following paragraph held it:  

Between life and death there is a library....And within that library, the shelves go on forever.  Every book provides a chance to try on another life you could have lived.  To see how things would be different if you had made any other choices... Would you have done anything different if you had a chance to undo your regrets?" 
That paragraph and the glowing recommendations of both independent booksellers working that day sealed the deal -- I had to read this book.  Here's how it went...

Nora Seed is having a truly horrible day.  Life has never been easy, but in the span of twenty-four hours her cat died, she's been fired (twice), soaked through, ghosted by family, and one-upped by an irritating former classmate.  Her life is going nowhere.  Overwhelmed by regret and loneliness, with nothing to give, no one to love, and no one who loves her in return, Nora decides life is no longer worth living.  She lands in the Midnight Library -- a place between life and death where she is able to live all the lives that would have resulted if she had made different choices.  As Nora is able to experience a variety of potential lives she is able to see her 'root' life with a newfound perspective.  As she does so, another choice presents itself -- will Nora stay the course or plot a new path?

I loved the whole concept of this book.  It had a kind of Quantum Leap meets It's a Wonderful Life vibe, where the protagonist gets to choose her own adventure.  In this way, Nora is able to live multiple lives, undo past regrets, repair relationships, and see what would have happened if she had taken a different path.  It felt good to read along with Nora as she slid into new books, sloughing off regrets and learning life lessons with each new life.  

The Midnight Library teaches some important lessons about perspective, regret, and how we should approach life.  It was impossible to read this book and not think about my own regrets and what I would do differently in my own life if given the opportunity.  Eventually, Nora has some fairly profound epiphanies about life which I have tucked away for those moments in life when I feel weighed down by similar regrets.  

My favorite aspect of this book was its message about our limitless potential, the importance of moving forward rather than wallowing in should haves and how each life is valuable, even if that person might not see it.  Each and every life is a mix of happiness and sadness, success and failure, and the presence of the negative does not make life worth living.  This quote drives that point home:

"Every second of every day we are entering a new universe.  And we spend so much time wishing our lives were different, comparing ourselves to to other people and to other versions of ourselves, when really most lives contain degrees of good and degrees of bad....It is so easy, while trapped in just the one life, to imagine that times of sadness or tragedy or failure or fear are a result of that particular existence.  That it is a by-product of living a certain way, rather than simply living. ....sadness is intrinsically part of the fabric of happiness.  You can't have one without the other.  ... there is no life where you can be in a state of sheer happiness for ever.  And imagining there is just breeds more unhappiness in the life you're in.

I started this book with incredibly high expectations.  While the story didn't quite meet them, it was still enjoyable, comforting, and meaningful.  I must add one caveat  to my recommendation of this book, aside from the notes found in the sensitive reader section below.  The story is incredibly predictable.  From early on I had fairly good idea about how everything would go down, and I was not wrong.  Halfway through, I thought the author might have something lurking up his sleeve, but it didn't really pan out.  You know what though?  I wasn't bothered by it.  Sometimes it's nice to not have the rug pulled out from under you.  

My Rating: 3.75 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Some discussion of suicide, loneliness, & alcoholism may be triggering.  Some profanity (entirely too many F-words for my liking).  Brief reference to sex, but no description.  A secondary character is married to another man in some lives.   

1 comment:

Frederick Kesin said...

This book was a big no for me. Technical writing errors throughout the entire novel, clunky dialogue, and how it’s wrapped up felt forced and unrealistic. Felt it would’ve served better if it ended 20 or so pages earlier.


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