Published by Viking on September 29, 2020
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Bantering Books Rating:
“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.
Bantering Books Review
I didn’t love The Midnight Library.
And no one is more surprised by this than me. For the simple reason that Matt Haig’s bestselling novel is a sensation. It has been embraced by thousands of readers, many of whom cherish it.
I thought it would be a slam-dunk read for me. It should’ve been a slam-dunk read. Because the story has so much of what I enjoy – a magical library, clever writing, a cat.
What’s not to love? Right?
Unfortunately, I can think of a few things.
Nora Seed has hit a rough patch. Feeling saddened by her life choices, she enters the Midnight Library – a library housed between life and death, where there are endless shelves filled with an infinite number of books, each one containing a slight variation of Nora’s current life.
By simply opening a book, Nora is transported to an alternate reality, and she is able to see how she would have turned out had she only made a different decision.
Would she have been happy as a glaciologist? Or a singer in a band? Or if she had married? Or pursued Olympic swimming?
Presented with the opportunity to undo her past mistakes, Nora must decide for herself which of her many, many possible lives is the one most worth living.
I can certainly see why The Midnight Library has resonated with so many readers. It’s a story about regret, which is a theme to which every single one of us can likely relate. I’m sure we all regret something that we did or didn’t do and have therefore felt, at one time or another, the pain and heft of regret’s burden.
But for all of its relatability, the novel is also quite dark, with the story being centered around suicide and depression – two subject matters that some readers may find to be disturbing and triggering. (Consider yourself forewarned.)
To Haig’s credit, however, he neither delves too deeply, nor too heavily into the topics. He keeps the story fairly close to the surface, only dipping his toe in just enough to give the reader sufficient character insight. In addition, the tone of Haig’s writing is warm and gentle, and he does an excellent job of inserting light moments of humor into the narrative to counteract its bleakness.
And Haig also adds a touch of bright, magical fantasy to the story by creating the wondrous Midnight Library – only to then swiftly explain away and bury that magic beneath theories of physics and philosophy.
Boring theories of physics and philosophy, I should say. And this is part of the reason why The Midnight Library did not enamor me.
By taking away the magic of the story and replacing it with science fiction, the story is bogged down and often difficult to wrap one’s head around, giving it a bit of a textbook feel. I had to fight hard to keep my interest and focus intact.
And not only is the novel too laden with science fiction for my tastes, but after a while, it also begins to feel less like a story and more like one big, inspirational pep talk. A heavy-handed, in-your-face pep talk. Haig slings life lesson after life lesson at the reader, self-improvement message after self-improvement message, with zero subtlety. He gives us no space to draw our own conclusions and interpretations. He does not trust us to correctly connect all the dots.
For me, Haig’s lack of faith in the reader is what finally does the novel in. By S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G everything out, he noticeably weakens the impact of The Midnight Library. What could have been an exceptionally powerful and emotional read, instead falls flat.
Clearly, my opinion lies in the minority. And by no means is it my intention to discourage anyone from reading this well-received novel. Many of you will respond to it far differently than I did.
So, here is my wish for those who read it –
May you love it. May you treasure it. May you find within the pages of The Midnight Library all the magic you hope to find.
And all that I did not.