The Midnight Library by Matt Haig: A review
“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 a book about the roads not taken. What would happen if at key points of our life we had chosen differently? How would our life be different? Would it be better? This is the conundrum faced by Nora Seed. She has lost her beloved cat and her job and it seems that she has nothing left to live for. Nora feels that her life has been a waste, a failure, and she decides to end it all.
She is full of regrets, feeling that at every crossroad in her life she has taken the wrong turn. But then she finds herself transported to a library filled with books that all contain different lives that she might have lived or maybe can still choose to live. Most importantly, the librarian, Mrs. Elm, is there for her just as she was at another strategic moment in Nora's life when her father died.
The book reminded me of nothing so much as the classic movie "It's a Wonderful Life." Nora has a chance to see how the different lives contained in the book would have played out if she had chosen to live them. The lesson for Nora is that each life has its ups and downs, pros and cons. It seems there is no such thing as the perfect life; nevertheless, maybe there can still be a wonderful life.
Matt Haig gives us an empathetic and compassionate telling of Nora's life and the decisions she must make. I read somewhere that he has suffered from depression himself and his narrative seems informed by his own personal experience. That being said, I didn't really like Nora very much. She seems totally focused on the negative in life and I could never really get a read on her personality beyond that negativity. Well, I guess that's why she's depressed! Duh.
But her story is really well told and even if it is hard to sympathize with Nora, it does make one pause to consider one's own life and how it might have turned out differently if different choices had been made. The narrative is fast-paced and seems to flow effortlessly. The message of the book, at least as I understood it, is that it is best to live in the moment and make the most of the opportunities that we have here rather than being consumed with regret over "what might have been."