The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Reviewed by Katherine Valdez
Reading the novel’s premise transported me back to high school, when my sister mentioned the seemingly small decisions we face daily that could change our lives in big ways. “Should I walk down this hallway or that hallway to get to my next class?”
The Midnight Library was my Christmas gift to her. Fortunately for me, the local library features it as a “Here and Now” seven-day checkout; I devoured it in four days.
If you’re the kind of person who loves quirky characters, a bit of fantasy, and humor that takes the sting out of the mind’s dark places, this book is for you. Think of it as a way to accompany Nora Seed on a journey through her personal library full of Choose Your Own Adventure books.
Nora Seed has a list of regrets as long as a book, and suicide seems the only answer, but when she enters a library containing all the lives she could have lived, she’s faced with the possibility of exchanging her life for a new one, and in the process discovers what makes life worth living.
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 has 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.
I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life.
— Sylvia Plath
A Conversation About Rain
Nineteen years before she decided to die, Nora Seed sat in the warmth of the small library at Hazeldene School in the town of Bedford. She sat at a low table staring at a chess board.
“Nora dear, it’s natural to worry about your future,” said the librarian, Mrs. Elm, her eyes twinkling.
Mrs. Elm made her first move. A knight hopping over the neat row of white pawns. “Of course, you’re going to be worried about the exams. But you could be anything you want to be, Nora. Think of all that possibility. It’s exciting.”
- An opening chapter that contains the phrase, “…said the librarian, Mrs. Elm, her eyes twinkling” that raised a red flag for me (Cheesy? Too precious? Or as the British say, “twee”?) but reveals a novel that is ultimately charming, profound, and life-affirming.
- The compassion and empathy that fills every scene, every page. Readers immediately know the author has been through tough times, as we all have, but with the added challenge of depression.
- Chapters titled such as “Life and Death and the Quantum Wave Function,” “A Moment of Extreme Crisis in the Middle of Nowhere” (a one-sentence chapter! “Oh, fuck!” whispered Nora, into the cold), and “The Frustration of Not Finding a Library When You Really Need One.”
- A self-deprecating, flawed protagonist racked with guilt over disappointing her friends, family, and herself, but who discovers the ingredients for a life well lived.
- The humor! This is usually my favorite part of my favorite books.
- The way the author presents situations that boost Nora, and in turn, the reader, with lines such as, “She realised, in that moment, that she was capable of a lot more than she had known.”
What Others Say
“Matt Haig has an empathy for the human condition, the light and the dark of it, and he uses the full palette to build his excellent stories.” — Neil Gaiman
She had thought in her nocturnal and suicidal hours, that solitude was the problem. But that was because it hadn’t been true solitude…amid pure nature (or the “tonic of wildness” as Thoreau called it) solitude took on a different character. It became in itself a kind of connection. A connection between herself and the world. And between her and herself.
About The Author
Matt Haig was born in Sheffield, England in 1975. He writes books for adults and children, often blending the worlds of domestic reality and outright fantasy, with a quirky twist. The Guardian has described his writing as “delightfully weird.”
He is the author of the internationally best-selling memoir Reasons to Stay Alive, along with five novels, including How to Stop Time, and several award-winning children’s books. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages. Visit him at MattHaig.com
Sources: Goodreads, Viking