“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?”
This is the premise of The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s newest novel. I’ve never read anything by Haig before this book, but I can guarantee that this oversight will be addressed. Because The Midnight Library was wonderful. There’s incredible philosophical depth packed into relatively few pages. And for a book that begins with a suicide attempt, it ended up being surprisingly positive and uplifting. Not only is it a thoughtful novel, it inspired deep contemplation within the reader, but in a way that is comfortingly gentle for the times in which we’re living.
“Fear was when you wandered into a cellar and worried that the door would close shut. Despair was when was the door closed and locked behind you.”
Nora Seed doesn’t matter. Not to any single person on the face of the earth. At least, that’s what she thinks. When this belief leads her to the decision to end her own life, she finds herself caught between life and death in the Midnight Library. This library contains every single life she could have possibly led had she made even the slightest of different decisions. If she can find the perfect life among the stacks before midnight ends, she can keep it. But if she’s still undecided when the clock begins to tick once more, the Midnight Library will burn to ash, taking every perspective life, and Nora herself, along with it.
“The thing that looks the most ordinary might end up being the thing that leads you to victory.”
I loved accompanying Nora on each of her journeys. Not so much because they were adventures, though some of them were, but because I really enjoyed witnessing her growth. As she tackled her regrets, she slowly and sometimes painfully changed both her worldview and her opinion of herself and her worth. It was such an encouraging transformation, and reminded me more than a little of It’s a Wonderful Life. She’s more important than she knows, and every decision she’s ever made has rippled out to touch others.
“And that sadness is intrinsically part of the fabric of happiness. You can’t have one without the other. Of course, they come in different degrees and quantities. But there is no life where you can be in a state of sheer happiness for ever. And imagining there is just breeds more unhappiness in the life you’re in.”
If given the same opportunity Nora has, would you try on different lives in hopes of finally finding one that fits? My knee-jerk response would be a unequivocal yes. But upon further reflection, I don’t think I would actually take that plunge. While I might not be the rock star or author or professor I dreamed of becoming as a child, those possibilities still live within me, and will until I draw my final breath. What I wouldn’t change for the world are the relationships I have. I’ve been blessed with an insanely fun marriage to my best friend, a tight-knit family, and some wonderful friendships. Any different path I might have taken could have radically altered any of those relationships. I honestly believe that it wouldn’t be worth the risk. Instead, I can take those relationships and the potential I know lives within me and make more of an effort to make one or more of my own dreams come true. The worst that could happen is that I fail and end up back where I started. What would I have lost? Absolutely nothing but the fear that kept me from trying in the first place, the loss of which would actually be worth failing in order to attain.
“Sometimes just to say your own truth out loud is enough to find others like you.”
Any work of fiction that can move its readers to reevaluate their own lives and try a little harder has accomplished something incredible. And if the book can do so in a way that is gentle and comforting instead of shaming in any way, that’s truly something special. Matt Haig gives us something that special with The Midnight Library. I can see this being a book I reread whenever life starts feeling like it isn’t worth the trouble. The Midnight Library is hope and potential and solace all packed into one slim book. Read it. Press it into the hands of anyone you know that might be struggling. Let it comfort and inspire you.
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