I’d certainly heard of Matt Haig’s non-fiction books but hadn’t realised he already written adult fiction novels before I read his latest, The Midnight Library.
I was a tad worried as though I liked the sound of it from the blurb, it was classified as ‘fantasy’, a genre with which I struggle to read (but not watch… which is weird I realise). But I needn’t have worried as the plot of this was way within my comfort zone – as someone who’s far too often pondered the concept of ‘what if’. Or indeed, the do-over.
The Midnight Library
by Matt Haig
Published by Canongate Books Ltd.
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fantasy, General Fiction
Between life and death there is a library.
When Nora Seed finds herself in the Midnight Library, she has a chance to make things right. Up until now, her life has been full of misery and regret. She feels she has let everyone down, including herself. But things are about to change.
The books in the Midnight Library enable Nora to live as if she had done things differently. With the help of an old friend, she can now undo every one of her 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 question: what is the best way to live?
I may not read a lot of books featuring the fantastic or the mystical but I watch a lot of it on television and written before about Sliding Doors and Fringe and the concept of alternate realities. And then there’s the idea of regrets and the desire for a ‘do-over’, which I appreciated in the Canadian show, Being Erica.
I adored the concept of a second, third and fourth chance at happiness or contentment so love the approach Haig has taken in this book. Although we learn not everyone has the opportunity presented to Nora when she attempts to end her life.
She had come to imagine mediocracy and disappointment were her destiny. p 135
Nora returns to the library of her childhood, the place in which she sought solace. It’s there when she needs it again years later. Along with her old favourite librarian and caretaker of the books of Nora’s future, as well as her Book of Regrets.
Nora tries to make sense of her experience.
The many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics suggests there are an infinite number of divergent parallel universes. Every moment of your life you enter a new universe. With every decision you make. p 146
The whole parallel lives thing is very relatable but I had to stop my mind going down the path of them existing nonetheless because here there’s reference to not just a few but an infinite number resulting from EVERY SINGLE DECISION we make. Such. A. Mind. Fuck.
I really liked Haig’s writing. It’s quite lovely. It’s easy to read and comfortable. Which is good because he’s dealing with some difficult subjects. He approaches the idea of suicide without being overly dramatic or fraught (when it’s obviously a topic that is). I really liked the way he gives us a quick look into Nora’s life, including pivotal decisions and her regrets, before we spend too much time in the present.
It’s every person’s fantasy – isn’t it? – to revisit their regrets and get that do-over, but of course we do realise it’s not necessarily guaranteed to make us happy and may well come at a cost. And sometimes what we believe to be our mistakes, turn out to be the right thing after all.
My only gripe here is probably that Haig doesn’t really allow Nora enough time in each different world to settle into and understand her alternative reality. But I also guess that’s because of the need to move on for we readers, but some faux lives / alternative universes felt as if they could have been tried on for size a little longer.
I thought all along it was fairly easy to guess where things would end up, but there’s a waver of sorts towards the end and I (along with Nora) was kinda sad to leave a life she enjoyed and was sort-of promised she could have if she loved it.
There are some obvious life lessons here. “That prison wasn’t the place, it was the perspective….”
Nora’s a great lead, a philosopher and pragmatic, she doesn’t really know what she wants, but knows what she doesn’t want. Which perhaps is why she’s in and out of most of her other lives so quickly.
Maybe even the most seemingly perfect intense or worthwhile lives ultimately felt the same. Acres of disappointment and monotony and hurts and rivalries but with flashes of wonder and beauty. Maybe that was the only meaning that mattered. To be the world, witnessing itself. Maybe it was’t the lack of achievements that had made her and her brother’s parents unhappy, maybe it was the expectation to achieve in the first place. pp 137-138
I actually really like the idea of a midnight library… a place between life and death that allows people to revisit missed opportunities and understand perhaps they hadn’t missed anything at all.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.