Title: The Midnight Library
Author: Matt Haig
Book 16 of 2021
Reading Time: 3hrs 19mins
Date Finished: April 24, 2021
Content Warnings: Suicidal ideation, death of a pet, attempted suicide, mental illness, substance abuse
What Worked For Me: Concept, speculation of purgatory
What Didn’t Work For Me: Repetitive
This fits snugly into a genre of books I like to call “exploring life’s regrets so I don’t have to.” Basically, it’s that strange in-between of almost being a self-help book without telling you any self-help things. Because if there’s one thing I don’t read, it’s self-help. Nothing against the books, I just feel like it’s all common sense and I’m not the type to spend money on them when my Mom can tell me the same things for free.
Following Nora after she decides to end her life, we end up in a library that holds all the moments of her life. She gets the chance to live through a list of her regrets and see what would be different if she had chosen a different path. Would life be better than what she had before she ended up here?
My fondness of this book stems from having read The Five People You Meet in Heaven years ago and enjoying that. It made me think more about how I interacted with people and how tiny things can change someone else’s life. This book makes me think of what it would be like to live through past regrets. I’ve always said that my greatest regret was not buying a particular black dress, and it would be nice to know if my life were different had I bought it. There are other things I’d like to see differently too, if they had or hadn’t happened. As a chronic “what-if” asker, this book fulfilled my curiosity.
As a main character, Nora isn’t that likable of a person. But that’s meant to be her character. It plays into where she is in life and why she chose to end it. She gets the chance to explore different versions of herself, which helped her work through the things she didn’t like about herself. It didn’t necessarily make her more likable, but it made her a realistic character. Someone who had a lot of faults and lived under the weight of their decisions. I imagine that if I kept trying to turn “what-if” into reality or resenting something for not happening, I’d be a lot like Nora. Maybe minus musical and athletic aspirations.
It’s not a profound book. I don’t think it’s meant to be. I mean, it got famous on BookTok because everyone suddenly made it a huge deal, but it’s really not special. I’m not saying this to be mean, it’s just that most people have thought of a variation of this idea at some point in their life. Haig simply turned it into a book that got a lot of buzz. And it’s one of those books that you either enjoy or you don’t. It’s valid either way because not everyone enjoys reading about things like this. And yes, it can come off as attempting to be profound or pretentious at times. I think that’s mostly a side effect of Haig being primarily a non-fiction author up until this book.
(Side note: If you’d like to start playing a responsible drinking game, take a shot every time I say the word “book”)
I have my preferences of what I think would have best suited Nora as she explored the different lives she could have had. There was one in particular that I grew quite attached to. But of course, not everything will be glamorous or perfect all the time - she did have to choose whether or not to continue living after exploring all the possibilities. I like the idea of there being a second choice, that someone would get to explore what they didn’t get and decide if that’s what they ultimately want.
Though this is the kind of book that goes quite wildly against my faith, it did make me reflect. After finishing this, I thought about the regrets I have and how different of a person I would be if I got to change then. Some might not be as significant, like going to the hair salon my cousin recommended, and others could change a lot, like dating my ex. Reading this book helped me come to terms with some of my regrets a little more. Turned them into smaller regrets. Made me realize that a lot of who I am now is owed to having certain regrets because I’ve experienced certain things (I will never pass up buying a perfectly fitted dress again).
Will I recommend this book? No, I don’t think so. It starts off really heavy and dark, with the suicide attempt that lands Nora in the midnight library, and I don’t think that’s something most people would want to read. I didn’t know that’s how things would start and it took me by surprise. I can’t in good conscience say that this is a book to pick up, and I think it’s something you should research heavily and be honest with yourself about the subject matter if you do decide to read it.