The Midnight Library, By Matt Haig
As a fiction reader, I want to read books that are all-absorbing and make me forget the negativity of real life, stories that even if they aren’t all smooth sailing, pull me in and uplift my spirits. It has never crossed my mind to read a book that has suicide as a focal point. But when I read a review of The Midnight Library in my granddaughter’s school newspaper of which she is chief editor, I was intrigued. Being the book a New York Times best seller and a worldwide phenomenon, it was heavily promoted, and I don’t usually pick my reads based solely on its popularity. So when I decided to give it a go it was with a good deal of skepticism.
The Midnight Library is a brilliant mix of mystery, comedy and fantasy told through the eyes of Nora Seed, the 35-year-old protagonist. She has just lost her job and her cat, and feels her life has no purpose. Deciding to call it quits she overdoses on antidepressants. These details alone would have put me off reading the book, if not for that brilliant exposé in a high school newspaper (you have to love these budding journalists!).
While Nora is suspended between life and death, she finds herself in a library where she runs into her old high school librarian, Mrs. Elm. The librarian tells Nora she can pick a book from the shelf and find a new life for herself in which she could find happiness. Each book Nora picks allows her to experience a different life path. She’s given the opportunity to explore other possibilities, such as follow her music career, pursue her swimming talent, or become a glaciologist, but each life either ends in tragedy or makes her feel unfulfilled. Each time she ‘enters’ a life she feels optimistic she’ll finally find happiness, only to return to the library disheartened. After yet another disappointment, Mrs. Elm tells Nora there is no more time left and she needs to pick her last book. After this last attempt at a new life, Nora realizes she doesn’t want to die, after all, and that her true happiness is in her root life.
This book has a clear message: there’s no point in tormenting oneself over what-ifs. Imagining a different life doesn’t necessarily mean it would be a better one, and as Nora realizes, “It is not the lives we regret not living that are the real problem. It is the regret itself. It’s the regret that makes us shrivel and wither and feel like our own and other people’s worst enemy.”
Despite touching on heavy topics such as death and suicide, the light and deeply philosophical tone of the book kept me engaged and left me with a good feeling inside. The romantic angle and HEA were certainly the cherry on the cake for me.