The Midnight Library

One of my book groups chose The Midnight Library (2020) by Matt Haig to read in November, and I’m so glad that they did, despite an inauspicious first line: “Nineteen years before she decided to die, Nora Seed . . .” I was afraid it would be depressing, and was also apprehensive because books written by straight white men have typically been my least favorite in the past few years. I was pleasantly surprised.

Nora is 35, has a philosophy degree, works in a music store, and thinks she’s just terrible at life. She left her fiance two days before the wedding, she quit high-level swimming as a teenager, and she walked out on her brother’s rock band. Now she wishes she had done something so she would be living a different life. Depressed, she decides that she doesn’t want to reach tomorrow.

The next thing she knows, it is midnight in what appears to be a vast library, and her school librarian is there. Mrs. Elm had comforted her when her father unexpectedly died many years before. Apparently “between life and death there is a library . . . [with] every book provid[ing] a chance to try another life you could have lived.”

Nora is shown a huge Book of Regrets, which had seemed to overtake her life. One by one, Nora gets to try on different lives that could have been, had she made different decisions. She marries her fiance; she stays in the rock band; she visits Australia with her best friend to be a guide on humpback whale cruises. She becomes a glaciologist and an Olympic-level swimmer. If she is disappointed in any way with a life, she comes back to the library. As long as the library is still there, her life still has possibility.

It’s a delightful, thought-provoking book–I loved the idea of being able to revisit choices that may have led your life in a completely different direction.

I would also consider The Midnight Library weight-neutral. As Nora cycles in and out of different lives, she notes how she feels “different in her body” thinking that in this life “she worked out a bit more.” In others, she’s not quite as fit. But Nora does not beat herself up in any particular life where she “couldn’t climb the stairs without getting out of breath.” No character’s body size is ever mentioned at all, and for that I am grateful.

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