Review: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Title: The Midnight Library
Author: Matt Haig
Publication Date: September 29, 2020
Publisher: Viking
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.

 

I have read Notes From A Nervous Planet before by Matt Haig and I found this book to have a similar style, even though it was a novel and not a self-help book. The short prose-like chapters are very representative of Haig's style but I think it worked for this novel and I found this book quite enjoyable! It was an easy and light read from start to finish and had so many important themes that we think about in our day-to-day lives. The premise is simple: how would you feel if you could live a different version of your life? What would you do if you were given an infinite amount of lives to choose from and how would you decide how to live?

Feeling trapped in her current life full of regrets and unfulfilled desires, Nora Seed has decided to die but before going to the afterlife, she visits the Midnight Library, a magical place full of books of life that she could choose from, where she is able to re-live her life as a different version of her current life. She could have been an Olympic swimmer had she decided not to give up on swimming, a rockband musician, a philosopher, a yoga instructor, living in Australia with her best friend, married to her ex-boyfriend Dan, living as a scientist studying climate change and glaciers in Svalbard, or living the perfect family life with Ash by simply saying "yes" to a coffee date.

Nora hops from one life to another, experiencing life as if she were living it anew. If she finds the perfect life that she desires, she will stay in that life and live happily ever after. With the help of her elementary school librarian, Ms. Elm, Nora tries to find the most desirable life for her and realizes the meaning of life throughout the incredible journey! While she can be everything and anything, which life will she choose?

But can she handle losing family members or friends or even her cat Volitare along the way? Every life seems perfect in theory but in reality, they are all not as perfect as they seem. This book is about the meaning of life and the choices we make that affect how we live our everyday lives; one single decision could mean a complete change in a version of our lives. What is living actually about and how do we find out what actually makes a life a good one?

Two of my favourite quotes from this book:

"She didn't need a vineyard or a Californian sunset to be happy. She didn't even need a large house and the perfect family. She just needed potential. And she was nothing if not potential. " (269)

This is so true. It's not about having things that make us happy, it's about the possibility and potential that comes with living every day that makes us happy. If we put in the work to live a good life, we will be happy because we will have used that potential in our lives, and we will be fulfilled knowing that we have worked for our version of our lives. While it is easy to dwell on the regrets of not being an Olympic swimmer or a rockstar, there is always a silver lining to the life we are currently living. And who knows? In those fantasy versions of our lives, there may always be an undesirable tradeoff that we don't think of, such as the absence of a family member or a friend because of one choice that we made. Therefore, it is crucial to focus on your life here and now and be happy for everything that you could be, and work towards fulfilling your dreams and your potential.

"What we consider to be the most successful route for us to take, actually isn't. Because too often our view of success is about some external bullshit idea of achievement--an Olympic medal, the ideal husband, a good salary. And we have all these metrics that we try and reach. When really success isn't something you measure, and life isn't a race you can win" (112)

Also good point. Success should be measured with internal achievements rather than external achievements, because it is only through internal achievements, such as becoming a kind person or being someone that makes a difference in the world, will one be truly happy and successful. When we focus too much on external achievements, we can be left feeling empty and hollow because we have not actually reached self-actualization and happiness. Internal achievement is having the courage to live your life and express your feelings and having a sense of fulfillment and purpose in life.

It was also very entertaining to read and I liked the titles of each chapter. There were also some fun texts and some great metaphors. For example, a pawn is a "queen-in-waiting" and all we need to do is to find a way to keep moving forward, one square after another, to get to the other side and unlock all kinds of power. This is a metaphor for life: while we may think of ourselves as ordinary, we have the ability to unlock all kinds of knowledge, power, and wisdom simply by moving forward. As long as we have the tenacity and the determination to keep living, we will achieve greatness in our lives, self-actualize, and turn into a very powerful person. Another example is the tree of life--life is a tree and all the branches are the possibilities that could be our lives. But no matter which possibility we choose, no matter which branch we are on, we will always be the same "rotten" tree, meaning that if we do not improve ourselves and live life to the fullest and be content with everything we have in our lives we will never be happy.

I recommend this to people who are lost in life, who always wonder what a different version of their lives might be like, who need some direction, who have insecurities, mistakes, regrets, and unfulfilled dreams. This might be a soothing cup of tea for those anxieties that might override you and make you realize that your life is the best version of the life you could be living because it is full of potential, and that is all that matters.


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