For the #3 spot on the 52 book reading challenge, the selection is “Goodreads winner in 2020.” The top spot for favorite fiction selection was The Midnight Library: A Novel by Matt Haig. This is the first Haig novel I’ve read, though he’s far from new to the scene. Sorry, I’m always just a little bit behind since the last few years my reading has suffered. The reviews for this book are all over the map, really. It seems readers either love it or hate it, so let’s get into my thoughts, shall we?
Nora Seed finds herself awash with regret after she looks back on her life and believes she’s made all the wrong choices. She’s given up numerous career pathways that could have served her well, she’s lost all the people she loves in one way or another, and now she’s officially unemployed and crippled by anxiety. She swallows a handful of pills and slips away only to wind up in the midnight library, a place between life and death that allows Nora the opportunity to visit an infinite number of different versions of her life. She can choose a regret to undo and see how her life played out in that timeline. As Nora drifts from one life to another, on and on, surprising things begin to happen within her that will challenge her notion of what it means to find contentment, and will alter her perception of life as she knows it.
“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?
– Matt Haig, The Midnight Library
First of all, most of the negative reviews I see of this book are wrapped up in the idea that the book didn’t really come to a startling and exciting conclusion. It’s a bit predictable, yes. It’s also a bit sentimental. But let me tell you why I don’t see that as problematic. This book is about a mental health journey. It’s not so much about the destination. It’s not a thriller. Truly, I believe there are people in this world in a similar place as Nora who need to read this book and experience her journey. If you’re in a great place in your life and everything seems perfect or, if not, perhaps you gravitate toward overt cynicism, this book may not be for you. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Move on and pick up some Gillian Flynn. I don’t think this book is a masterpiece, but I feel it has some extreme value for the people who need something heartfelt and uplifting.
On the whole, I think this is a great concept, and it’s a very inventive twist on the alternate timeline motif. Honestly, I kind of hope we all do get a chance to stop in our own little versions of purgatory to have a journey of “what-ifs.” I would love to see what my life would have looked like had I taken a few different turns. I think we all have multiple regrets, some big and some small, that we play in our heads on a loop. And if you’ve ever truly had this experience, this book would really make you consider which choices you’d undo. For my part, I also considered who it was who touched my life many years ago who would wind up in charge of my special place. I’m positive I know who it is. He was a professor at my University during my undergrad. I’ll call him Dr. B.
While Dr. B wasn’t my advisor, he invited me to his office one day after class to chat about my potential future. He was interested in what I planned. He thought I had promise in the English department and we talked for quite some time. He urged me to go somewhere great for my graduate work. He told me I could aim higher, and I needed to if I wanted a really great career at a great University. I never forgot the wonderful advice I got from Dr. B. The problem is, I didn’t wind up following his advice and that wound up being my strongest and longest lasting regret. A few years ago, I looked him up and found out he died in 2009 of cancer at the age of 60. Suffice to say, it wasn’t difficult to figure out who my Mrs. Elm would be in my midnight library. Who would your Mrs. Elm be? Feel free to share in the comments if you’d like.
Back to the book, this is a fast read. The pacing is excellent, and it really manages to keep your attention throughout. I listened to it. Occasionally, I found Carey Mulligan’s recitation to be a bit sleepy sounding, though not at all unpleasant. I definitely never found myself bored. It’s quite a lyrical novel with strong, well developed characters. Considering this is a book with alternate timelines, there are often different versions of the same characters in the different timelines. As these characters had taken different pathways based on Nora’s choices, there were slight variations in their character. I thought Haig handled this quite well, and the slight adjustments to their personalities and their states of mind depending on where in life they were at the time were quite believable.
In short, I see why this book is so popular. It’s highly imaginative and engaging. For many people, it has great depth and meaning. Anything that helps you come to terms with your perspective on life in a way usually reserved for a therapist’s couch, is worthy of praise. I enjoyed this very much. 4 Stars.
Published Sept 29, 2020 by Penguin Audio. ISBN 9781786892737. Runtime 8 hrs, 50 minutes. Narrated by Carey Mulligan.
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