Book Review: “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig

CONTENT WARNING: Suicide is mentioned in this article. If you’re struggling, please know that you’re not alone. You can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat with a representative online.

Less than a year after its release, New York Times–bestselling author Matt Haig’s latest book, The Midnight Library, has already sold more than two million copies. Frankly, it could have sold two copies and I would still want to shout about it, but I think its killer sales record points to the fact that I am not alone in feeling this way.

When the novel opens, Nora Seed is having possibly the worst day ever. She lost her job. Her only piano student has given up the instrument. Her cat was hit by a car. With seemingly nothing left to live for, Nora Seed decides there’s no point in trying. So she leaves a voicemail saying goodbye to her brother – her only living family member – and swallows a bottleful of pills.

Only, when Nora wakes up, she’s not dead. But nor is she alive. Nora has found herself in a sort of limbo – a library between life and death where it’s always midnight. Here, she gets the chance of a lifetime – or more accurately, unlimited lifetimes – to see what her life would be like if she’d done things differently. There are an infinite number of books in the library, and each book is the doorway to a different life. All Nora has to do is find the perfect one.

This book was recommended to me by a bookseller in my local shop, and to be honest, I didn’t think it was my kind of thing. But holy cats am I glad I picked it up. The Midnight Library is the kind of book that had me hooked from the very first page.

As someone who has experienced my own struggles with mental health over the years, I could immediately relate to Nora’s feelings of hopelessness and despair. In fact, I really connected with Nora as a character overall. In high school, people expected her to do great things – become an Olympic swimmer, a glaciologist, a stadium-touring musician. The world was her oyster, and yet when the book opens, she is 35 and has just lost her job working at a local music shop. She’s full of regret over what she could have been.

I think I read this book at the perfect time. I had just been visiting my parents’, where I found and flipped through my high school yearbook. It’s full of things like “remember us when you’re famous” and “most likely to win a Nobel Prize.” While I’m proud of the life I live, it’s hard not to look at those young expectations and feel like I’ve fallen short or aborted some sort of potential that I no longer have. Nora absolutely experiences some of those same feelings. The beautiful thing about this book is that we get to see what those could-have-beens would have looked like. As Nora lives as a world-renowned athlete, as the wife of a man she once canceled a wedding on, a question emerges. Do our choices really matter? Or will the tree of our lives always die if the trunk is inherently rotten?

There is no doubt about it – this book goes to some dark places. If you’re not prepared for it, I could see it being hard to read. It was definitely a tear-jerker for me. But it’s also full of hope – and not the kind that pastes a simple solution over an incredibly complex question, but a hope that unfolds slowly and naturally. I will say that there was a point at which I could see where the ending was going to go, but it wasn’t something that bothered me. Like a river inevitably flowing toward the ocean, the scenery of Nora’s journey was beautiful, captivating, and at times both familiar and unexpected.

What I really appreciated about this story was the realness of it. I think sometimes books and movies present a sense of “normal” that is actually quite far from what “normal” looks like to a lot of people. We all have dreams. Most of us have regrets. But The Midnight Library shows us that sometimes the things we regret the most are actually other people’s dreams, not our own. Most of the choices we make are the only ones we could have made. To have chosen otherwise would be to have become a person other than ourselves.

I would highly recommend picking up a copy of The Midnight Library, either from your local bookstore or by clicking one of the buttons below. This book will always have a home on my shelf, my own personal doorway to hope when the world seems to have gone dark.

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