Title: The Midnight Library
Author: Matt Haig
Publication date: September 29, 2020
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
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.
At age 35, Nora Seed makes a choice that should be fatal. Estranged from her best friend and from her brother, let go from an unfulfilling job, with a broken engagement in her past, she’s finally pushed too far when she learns that her beloved cat has died. Nora’s life once seemed full of promise, but now, she sees nothing ahead of herself but more loneliness and bleakness. So she decides to end her life.
But in the moments between life and death, Nora ends up in the Midnight Library, a seemingly magical place where choices are endless. In this infinite library, each volume on the shelves represents a different path her life might have taken. Nora is full of regrets for all the missed opportunities and seemingly wrong decisions she’s made during her lifetime, and in fact, one of the key books in the library is the Book of Regrets, capturing everything in Nora’s life that she wishes she could have done differently.
Under the guidance of Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian who represented kindness and safety at a difficult time in her life, Nora chooses different volumes of her life to try again. In each, she inhabits the life she might have had if she’d chosen differently. From sticking with the swimming career that could have led her to the Olympics, to signing the recording contract with the band that might have launched her into international stardom, to a life pursuing her academic career in philosophy while also raising a daughter with a man she loves, Nora gets to experience alternate realities and how she might feel in each different version of her life.
As in real life, there are no easy answers. While Nora seeks the right life, each ends up with flaws. If only she could find the one that’s perfect for her, she’d be able to stay in it… but with each, there comes a point where she returns to the library to try again.
Over the course of the book, Nora learns to let go of regret. She also learns the importance of perspective — that what she sees isn’t necessarily true for the people she’s interacting with, and that each person’s life can have far greater impact than they realize.
The Midnight Library is so meaningful, and so beautifully written. There are life lessons throughout, but never in a way that feels preachy or patronizing. Nora’s experiences feel real, and in each version of her life, it becomes clearer and clearer that the right life doesn’t equate to perfect happiness, as no life can be nothing but happy. Ultimately, it’s about choosing to live, to find purpose, and to find connection. As Nora progresses, we’re able to journey with her and discover some truths that make perfect sense, yet are rarely said.
I really loved this book, and will be pushing it into the hands of several bookish friends. Highly recommended — it’s uplifting and life-affirming, and left me feeling hopeful and renewed.
For more by this terrific author, check out my reviews of:
How To Stop Time
The Dead Fathers Club