The Midnight Library: A literary Sliding Doors

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Midnight Library by Matt Haig science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Who hasn’t fantasised what a different version of their life might look like? What if you’d become famous? Or an Olympic athlete? What if you’d become an arctic researcher? A musician? That’s exactly what Matt Haig explores in his latest offering, The Midnight Library (2020).

Nora Seed (and note the pointed symbolism of her surname) is not having a great day. Her cat just died. She’s been fired. Her brother is ignoring her and her neighbour, the only person she has any social contact with, doesn’t need her to bring round his meds any more. So that night, she tries to kill herself.

Instead of death, however, Nora finds herself in a library where each volume on the shelf is a different version of her life. She is met by the librarian, a certain Mrs. Elm (who, coincidentally, was her school librarian), who hands Nora her book of regrets, documenting every regret she has ever had in life. Now Nora is allowed to dip into all the other myriad versions her life could have been and, if she likes the look of one of the lives more than her own, she is allowed to remain in it.

And so come the variants: Nora could be a rockstar, an Olympian, the owner of a pub, a glaciologist, married, a mother – the possibilities are endless. But will any of these lives make her happier than the one she has lived?

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThis is the burning question that drives Haig’s story, and it is a thought-provoking one at that. In an age of social media that allows us to compare our lives with the carefully cultivated lives of thousands of others at the click of a button, it goes without saying that it’s difficult not to think the grass is greener elsewhere. But as Nora will learn, is this dissatisfaction all just a symptom of our great age of comparison?

Nora’s many lives are all utterly different from one another, but one thing remains the same: she is on antidepressants in each one. No matter how famous, how successful, how apparently content, this fact doesn’t change. Haig is, of course, renowned for his exploration of mental health issues. Reasons To Stay Alive, arguably most successful work, is a non-fiction autobiographical account of his own struggles. But The Midnight Library uses the power of story to try and make sense of Nora’s depression and poses the sometimes painful question of whether it’s possible to change or leave behind these inherent parts of ourselves.

The Midnight Library is moving, poignant, at times upsetting and often funny. Haig is continuing an important conversation about mental health and, far from feeling didactic, this well-paced, page-turner of a novel will leave readers feeling uplifted and hopeful – something we could all do with.

Published in September 2020. “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?” A dazzling novel about all the choices that go into a life well lived, from the internationally bestselling author of Reasons to Stay Alive and How To Stop Time. Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better? In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s enchanting new novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

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RACHAEL "RAY" MCKENZIE, with us since December 2014, was weaned onto fantasy from a young age. She grew up watching Studio Ghibli movies and devoured C.S. Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA not long after that (it was a great edition as well -- a humongous picture-filled volume). She then moved on to the likes of Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy and adored The Hobbit (this one she had on cassette -- those were the days). A couple of decades on, she is still a firm believer that YA and fantasy for children can be just as relevant and didactic as adult fantasy. Her firm favourites are the British greats: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, and she’s recently discovered Ben Aaronovitch too. Her tastes generally lean towards Urban Fantasy but basically anything with compelling characters has her vote.

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One comment

  1. Thank you for bringing this book to my attention.

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