It is difficult to review Matt Haig’s latest bestselling fiction book without using phrases like ‘thought-provoking,’ which are often quite devoid of real meaning. All books make you think, of course. Still, The Midnight Library (2020), published by Canongate Books, is something else. It’s deeply thoughtful and infectiously so. As the main character, Nora, delves into infinite versions of her life, you can’t help but imagine your own parallel lives. She finds herself stuck in a strange realm between life and death, forced to contemplate how she has lived her life by exploring versions of her life adjacent to her own; different decisions, mistakes made, or dreams pursued. For Nora, this timeless realm manifests itself as a library. Each and every book is another version of her life.
Nora is someone who believes she doesn’t deserve to live, but she is full of potential and thus carries with her a litany of regrets. Haig’s exploration of each of Nora’s alternative lives is at times devastating and distant, and at times incredibly warm, but always utterly captivating.
The library sits at midnight indefinitely – until Nora either finds a life she is happy with or the realm crumbles away. The position in which she finds herself might just be something we’ve all dreamed of without realising. Nora explores the flashy alternate lives: as an Olympic athlete, or a rockstar etc. She also explores the more mundane and minor changes: where she said yes to a coffee with a certain guy, or where she looked after her cat better. In so doing, Haig’s celebration of life and its possibilities is both glamorous and accessibly unglamorous.
‘The only way to learn is to live,’ explains the librarian, a message that captures the book’s ultimately uplifting message, amidst its melancholy tone. The Midnight Library is absorbing, inspiring and every bit as compelling as its premise.