Book Review – Matt Haig’s ‘The Midnight Library’
TRIGGER WARNING – mentions of suicide
Haig’s ‘The Midnight Library’ is a celebration of life’s possibilities hidden in a seemingly tragic guise. The book follows Nora Seed, who after a series of unfortunate events, including the death of her cat, her elderly neighbour rejecting her help and her brother ignoring her, decides to take her own life.
Instead of dying, Nora finds herself in the midnight library, with each book representing a different version of her life based on every decision she made. In a Sliding Doors-type reality, Nora begins to explore each of these lives to find a new one to live in. Becoming everything from a Rockstar, Olympic medallist, and glacial researcher, Nora begins to challenge big metaphysical questions of what our purpose on earth really is, and how we as humans are supposed to achieve that elusive ‘ultimate happiness’.
What I appreciate about the book is Haig leaving the conceit of the midnight library somewhat unexplained. Instead of wasting pages explaining the mechanics of the universe, the reader is simply left to explore the many possibilities of life alongside Nora, keeping the wonderful mysticism of the story alive. However, the book does teeter on the edge of repetitiveness while Nora spends many chapters as simply an explorer, trying on life after life with little success. While not for some, the repetitive and predictable narrative style is very comfortable and familiar, reminding me of fantastical stories I was told as a child with a clear beginning, middle and end.
Hidden in this story of life’s possibilities is Nora’s experience of depression and anxiety. Nora struggles to understand how she can’t help but find fault in lives where she’s wealthy, attractive, and successful, at points falling further into her patterns of depression. By tackling many of lives big question, Haig sets out to explain that true joy in life is found in simple, everyday experiences. Nora herself finds the most happiness in a life where she’s happily married to her old next-door neighbour and is a mother. The reader alongside Nora learns the key to happiness is simplicity.
Haig’s style of writing is gorgeous, resulting in a book with many quotable passages. At points the novel reads like a self-help book, with wonderful passages explaining the importance of human experiences. The reader feels like they learn alongside Nora as Haig takes our perception of life and shakes it up, reminding us to appreciate the little things.
While the ending is somewhat predictable, it is the obvious and satisfactory end to the novel. Most rewardingly, the reader closely follows Nora’s transformation as she works to resolve her life’s disgruntlements in order to achieve ultimate peace and satisfaction. The Midnight Library is a successful novel due to its ability to have a real psychological impact on the reader. Finishing this book leaves you feeling motivated to enact positive change, to seek out happiness in your own personal life. As Haig opines; “Those lives are happening, it is true, but you are happening as well, and that is the happening we have to focus on.”
Written by Anna Craig, The Maker’s digital intern