Matt Haig’s THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY is a sliding doors novel about one woman’s search for a fulfilling life.
In the course of one day, Nora Seed has been mugged, lost her job, and found out that her cat has died. On top of that, she has been reminded of all of the ways that she has failed everyone in her life: her father, her brother, her best friend, and her ex-fiancé.
Struggling with depression, and feeling that she has nothing in her life worth living for, Nora decides to kill herself. Then she wakes up in the Midnight Library, which exists in a pocket of time between her life and her death.
Every book in the library represents another life that Nora could be living at this exact moment; parallel lives sprung from decisions big and small that Nora made in her life. The stacks are accessible through a librarian, who appears to Nora as Mrs. Elm, the school librarian from her childhood.
All Nora has to do is decide what she wants to change — what regret she wants to erase — and Mrs. Elm will find the book that contains that future. Nora will then slip into that version of herself and experience this different life.
With infinite lives waiting for her in the books of the Midnight Library, Nora has the opportunity to find the one where she fits; a life where she is truly happy. She can make any adjustments to her life, but if she gives up her search for happiness, the Midnight Library will crumble and Nora will die.
She starts with the life where she is married to her ex-fiancé, Dan. This Nora went through with her wedding and she and Dan opened a pub in the English countryside. In her own timeline, Nora called off the wedding after her mother succumbed to cancer.
In this life the two of them run a fairly successful pub – but they are deeply unhappy with each other. Seeing Dan in person after all this time, Nora realizes that her life is better off without him. He never supported her, never really cared what she wanted, and actively prevented her from accepting a huge record deal that her band had been offered.
Back in the Midnight Library after realizing this life was not for her, Nora sets out to see the outcomes of her other biggest regrets.
She follows her best friend to Australia, instead of letting her reservations hold her back. She decides to continue competitive swimming – which she had given up after the pressure to succeed gave her panic attacks – and arrives in a timeline where she is an Olympic champion. She even accepts that record deal and finds that she is a world famous rock star currently on tour in Brazil.
As she spends time in these other realities, Nora begins to see how she has shaped the world in her real life; how the choices she made changed the people around her. She begins to see the ways that she succeeded, and begins to accept her own failures.
THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY is a vivid picture of depression and regret. The author, Matt Haig, is very open about his own mental health struggles, and does an excellent job translating them into this novel.
Nora is a compelling narrator; she is truly gifted in a number of ways, but has shut out the world at every turn and failed to pursue any of her dreams. The Midnight Library gives her a chance to see what her life could be if she had lived it differently.
Ultimately, I enjoyed the novel, although I did have some issues with the way it ended that I will not go into here. Haig offers an interesting perspective on life, and a person’s ability to understand their own impact on the world. THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY was an engaging read, one that I am certain to keep thinking about for a long time.