THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY
Written by Matt Haig
Published by Canongate Books Ltd, February 4, 2021
My star rating – 4.5 stars
Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices . . . Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?”
A dazzling novel about all the choices that go into a life well lived, from the internationally bestselling author of Reasons to Stay Alive and How To Stop Time.
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?
This is easily the most impossible book to review! Why you ask? Because it’s 100% subjective. If you have 1000 people in the same room, who all read the book at the exact same time, you will NOT find two people who share the exact same thoughts and opinions. Before I started this book I noticed that the reviews were all over the place. Some loved it, some hated it, and some felt indifferent. I wondered how it was possible. Now I know. It all comes down to your own experiences, your own life choices, and your own mental health.
But before I go in depth into my thoughts, I need to mention that this has trigger warnings dripping from every page. The obvious one is suicide. When the book opens we meet Nora as she’s at her breaking point. No fiancee, she’s fired from her dead end retail job, and her cat is found dead on the street. She’s so deep in her regrets and feels as if she’s got nothing to offer the world, so she overdoses on pills and finds herself in this Midnight Library. There are other trigger warnings for depression, anxiety, and mental health in almost every aspect you could imagine. Keep that in mind.
As I said above, we meet Nora as she’s decided that she has nothing left to live for. She takes pills and finds herself in this “in-between” state. Not quite alive and not quite dead, she awakens in a library that has infinite shelves and is run by the librarian from her childhood. All the books on the shelf are green and she is presented with her very own book of regrets, where every small regret she’s ever had fills the pages. She needs to make the choice to live or die by experiencing the lives that are held within the books of the library.
The pacing of this book was PERFECT! First off, the chapters were super short. I kept telling myself “one more chapter” late into the night. It was too easy to keep going! And being propelled with a new life Nora experiences in every chapter… I mean, come on! I HAD to know what she was going to do next! The life where she married her fiancee, the life where she stayed with the band and signed the record deal, the life where she kept training in swimming and went to the Olympics, the life where she said yes to the coffee date with the cute guy…. every small choice led to a new life and I needed to read it all!
When I finished this book I went looking for reviews to see where there were so many different ratings and I happened to stumble upon a very angry review. Since this deals with mental health and depression, people are going to take from this book VERY different things. The angry review I read (and I’m paraphrasing here) stated that the author gives the impression that a new perspective was the cure for her depression. While I can understand how this person felt that way (depression is a very different animal for everyone – no one is the same), I felt that there was more hope than anything.
While Nora experiences hundreds of her alternate lives, she finds one similar thing – nothing is perfect. That thought in and of itself can be depressing, but I don’t see it that way. I find it REAL. No matter how perfect her scenario was, she always found a flaw. Something that wasn’t right or felt wrong. I find that comforting. To know that no matter how great things are, life will still be messy. No matter how many sleepless nights you have wondering what your life would look like if you did/didn’t make that decision, your life is never going to be a postcard picture of happiness. Everyone out there is doing the best that they can, finding happiness where and when they can. And, in the end, things can change. That angry review where she said that the author was preaching change of perspective meant a cure, I think that it was just a way of explaining that even when you feel like you have nothing left in the world, maybe, just maybe, 5 minutes from now you’ll get a phone call from that person you’ve been thinking about. Or maybe tomorrow you’ll get an interview for that job you’ve been obsessing over. Things can change, for better or worse, but you need to be alive to experience it and make it the best you can. And when you can’t make it the best, lean on your support system, even if you think you’re dragging them down. Because you’re not.
One thing I really didn’t like was that every time she went into a new life, she went in knowing nothing, and it made her look a little stupid and crazy. She would get asked if she talked to a person that day and she would answer like she thought she should and they would look at her like she was nuts. She spent so much time figuring out who she was in each new life that she wasted a lot of time and it got a little repetitive. I wish that she went in with her alternate self’s memories so she could just go on living.
She also went into each life with her old feelings. It would be really hard to figure out your new life and if it’s something you want to keep on living when you’re carrying around all your old baggage and emotions. If I was feeling particularly shitty and in a bad head space and I was suddenly thrust into a world where I was supposed to be happy, peppy, and swimming in the ocean in the sunshine, I doubt I would live that life to the fullest. I can’t just shut off my depression and anxiety because I’m in a new situation….. wish I could.
In the end I really loved this story and the message it had. I felt that it had a lot of hope and helped me realize that I have zero regrets in my life (ok, maybe one, and i’m working on it…. sort of). I loved seeing how someones life could change if they did/didn’t make that one decision. If you’re at all interested in reading this book, don’t let anyone tell you how to feel about it! This is going to hit everyone differently and I’m really interested to see what hits you the hardest!
Until next time, happy reading!