The Midnight Library

By Matt Haig

The Midnight Library, a novel by Matt Haig
Book details

What is your Limbo? Do you even believe such a place exists between life and death? I have always imagined that if it did exist it would be like a waiting area in which you have to make up for all those sins you did in life. For me, this will consist mainly of apologising to ants and spiders that I have stood on by mistake and sent there before me. What if Limbo gave you the chance to experience the life not lived? You could try out some of the scenarios that you missed; kiss that person, go on that holiday, join that cult. Perhaps this Limbo will teach you as much about the life that you did live as those you did not? 

Nora Seed is not having a good day. In fact, we are told that she will be dead by the end of it. She is depressed, has lost her job and is consumed with regrets. However, death is just out of reach, before she can walk through that door she must first visit the Midnight Library, a place that holds records of the infinite other lives Nora may have lived. The Librarian gives her an ultimatum; choose to live, die, or pick another life from the collection. With so many opportunities, which will Nora choose? 

The reason that I love science fiction is that it is such a broad church. It ranges from space battles to more emotional and grounded fantasy like The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. This is more of a gentle style than my normal reading and comes across like Mike Gayle or Danny Wallace tale, but with fantastical elements. This made it a refreshing change as it queried different areas of my psyche. The books makes you question where you are in life and whether you would change any one element to see the ripples it would cause. Personally, I would not jeopardise a single thing that may stop me having the family that I do, but this is not the case for Nora.  

By using the prism of Nora, Haig can really explore the alternatives that life can offer. She believes that she has little to live for, so when things change, she should not miss what she had. The book becomes a series of short vignettes of alternative lives as Nora follows her swimming, band and ex-lover. Each life teaches her more about herself and this is the true lesson that the Library is trying to instil. Some of these life lesson felt a little obvious at times and I felt that I aware that in which direction the story was heading early on, but that does not mean the ride was not enjoyable. I particularly liked the lives in which Nora dismisses things quickly. 

The book may be centred around the phycological question of who we are but there are strong supernatural/science fiction elements. The idea of the Midnight Library itself is an interesting one and Haig links it to Nora’s mindset. When she crumbles, so do the foundations of the Library. Haig also boosts the fantasy elements by playing with the idea that there are multiple travellers who are in their own version of the Library, in one case an old video store. If you are a pure science fiction fan there are enough intriguing elements in the book to keep you interested. 

As fantastical as The Midnight Library may be, it is a very human story. It is really about Nora’s internal struggles. This is a book about feelings and considering your place in the world, the type of things that publishers put into general fiction when anyone can see that it is actually urban fantasy/science fiction. If you are looking for a gentler and more considered book, then this could be for you. It deals with big questions like why I am here and death, but all with a deftness of touch that makes it a pleasant read and you hope throughout that Nora gets what she desires most – allowing herself to be happy.  

Written on 20th August 2020 by .

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