What a delightfully pleasant read. The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig, offers a story filled with possibility, opportunity, and even a bit of hope. The book begins with Nora Seed, underwhelmed with her disappointing life, deciding to end it all with a handful of pills. It isn’t so much that her life has become too much to handle, but the excitement has dimmed. Life has become meaningless and the only way out is the Midnight Library. Although Nora doesn’t know it yet.
As it turns out, there’s a midway point between life and death. For some, it may be a restaurant serving up endless meal options. For others, it might be a video store, offering infinite film choices. A music shop, a pet store — you get the point. For Nora, it’s a library. And as soon as she pops the handful of depression pills meant to keep her in this world, she finds herself not on the steps of heaven (or hell, thankfully), but in an enormous library, surrounded by unending shelves filled with books. Her former school librarian, Mrs. Elm is there to be her guide.
Nora, who really just wants to be dead, is now faced with infinite possibility. Mrs. Elm explains that each book is a life she could have lived, if she had made different decisions. What if you turned left on that road instead of right? What if you chose the chicken instead of the steak? Or, what if you had married that guy after all? What if you chose the family life? What if you chose the swimming career? Boundless parallel lives — hers to keep, if she wants one. She simply has to explore the books and try living the alternative lives until she finds one that she likes enough to stick with. Seems simple enough.
Skeptical, but curious, Nora opens the book to her old relationship. She wants to know what would have happened if she married the guy and followed his dream to open a pub. Turns out it’s not for her. I think we all saw that coming. She flips open the pages to her Olympic swimming career, her life as a glaciologist, her exciting career as a rock star, and thousands more — all while grappling with the fact that she was trying to die, and none of these options give her that.
It’s an unusual novel — creative and thoughtful. And yet, it had a lot of darkness to it, offering some unexpected depth. The pursuit of death is not often a happy topic. People much prefer to focus on the happy things that come from being alive. Nora experiences plenty of that as she hops from alternative life to life. She’s reminded that the best things in life aren’t always the big successes. There’s a lot of joy to be found in the small things. And while I’m not just going to sum it up to a cliché happy ending that demands we all stop and smell the roses, I will say this:
It’s easy to get buried in depression and disappointment. Especially right now, when the world feels like it’s about to topple out of orbit and smash right into the sun. But there is good in the world and there are good moments and good people scattered along our own personal paths of life. We can choose to hang onto those good things and build the life we want, despite it also being filled with a few bad moments and painful spells, recognizing that there’s something of a balance to it all. And while I don’t plan to spoil the ending to the book, I will say that Nora finds her balance.