This gentle but never cloying fable offers us a chance to weigh our regret over missed opportunities against our gratitude for the life we have ... Haig, who’s been frank about his own experiences with depression, is a sympathetic guide for Nora’s journey. His allusions to multiverses, string theory and Erwin Schrödinger never detract from the emotional heart of this alluring novel. And when Nora’s sojourn allows her to realize that perhaps 'even the most seemingly perfectly intense or worthwhile lives ultimately felt the same,' and that 'life simply gave you a whole new perspective by waiting around long enough to see it,' Haig brings her story to a conclusion that’s both enlightening and deeply satisfying.
Into this ever-popular genre, Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library is a welcome addition ... The issue of the many Noras temporarily displaced from their own root lives is somewhat troubling. Where do they go in the interim? ... It can be hard to keep a reader’s energy invested in a depressed and somewhat listless character, but Nora is smart and observant; she remains good company ... There is likewise a danger that such a recursive plotline will tire the reader. But here, too, the book succeeds. At just the right moment, not too soon and not too late, Nora makes her final decisive move, taking us into the last section of the book. The ending is satisfying but not surprising. By the time it comes, in fact, only one choice still seems possible ... The narrative throughout has a slightly old-fashioned feel, like a bedtime story. It’s an absorbing but comfortable read, imaginative in the details if familiar in its outline. The invention of the library as the machinery through which different lives can be accessed is sure to please readers and has the advantage of being both magical and factual. Every library is a liminal space; the Midnight Library is different in scale, but not kind. And a vision of limitless possibility, of new roads taken, of new lives lived, of a whole different world available to us somehow, somewhere, might be exactly what’s wanted in these troubled and troubling times.
The Midnight Library is unusual in that it follows a plot with no twists, no turns that don't feel like a gentle glide. Inside the library itself, Mrs. Elm's job is to present everything to Nora very clearly and to lay out the stakes very directly. Infinite options, yes, but maybe not an infinite amount of time in which to choose. Infinite possibility, sure, but only one shot at each of them. When Nora loses hope, the library starts to collapse. When she finds herself excited again about living, things calm down. And there's a deliberateness to it all. A simplicity to the narrative that has to be taken as a choice on Haig's part, not an accident ... what sucks a measure of the color and life from The Midnight Library is that Nora, as a character, doesn't really want anything. Or maybe she does, but the arc of the plot hinges on her trying to figure out what exactly it is. And a character who doesn't actively want something—even when it is something so basic as to keep on living—is a hard character to identify with. Ultimately, Haig gives Nora (and those of us following along with her) a straightforward path from suicide to closure, from regret to acceptance.
The novel’s simple yet fantastical premise renders Nora’s story a modern day parable, exploring regret, pain and the richness of the ordinary in life. An exquisite depiction of existential depression and the lessons it can reveal, The Midnight Library is a captivating story and an uplifting antidote to the cult of self-improvement: a manifesto for true self-acceptance ... The warped logic of severe depression is honestly and clearly expressed ... Nora's inner landscape is artfully rendered on the page ... Self-harm is discussed throughout the novel, with calmness and grace ... However, I found the depiction of antidepressants reductive: when Nora enters one of her favourite potential lives, she views the absence of antidepressants in the bathroom drawer as evidence of a happy life. Writing from lived experience, Haig is right to critically examine the efficacy of powerful medication; however, in a book that treats every other aspect of mental health with such compassion, it is disappointing to find an implicit disregard for what is, for many who battle with suicidal urges, a life-saving and life-maintaining treatment ... this masterful novel is a more powerful guide to self-acceptance than any self-help book. Despite the fantastical nature of the plot, Nora is the anchor of the story: whether at home on the verge of taking an overdose, or browsing through magical books in the midnight library, she is absolutely real. As readers, her journey is our journey, and by the end, my own 'book of regrets' felt considerably lighter.
... a tonic to anyone who tumbles down this rabbit hole of what-if thinking ... One of the reasons I love to read is because it quiets my mind. I was so engrossed in The Midnight Library that I stopped worrying about deadlines and small annoyances and bigger fears. Even days later, when my mind darted to the would-have, should-have, could-haves, I was able to redirect. Call it the Haig effect: Why squander energy on imagining some other life? It would be different, yes, but that doesn’t mean better ... Maybe you already knew that regret is a waste of time; I hear it constantly. But it’s easier to buy when you recognize that all those other outcomes would have come with their own problems. That’s what Haig so beautifully demonstrates. We tend to romanticize other variations of our lives — we would have no cares in the world, if only we had done this and that differently. Haig’s response: Of course we would. Different packaging; same us. The only thing we truly need to change is the one thing we have complete control over: our outlook.
This is a streamlined novel; no side plots, no broad cast of characters, no twists of fantasy for the sheer joy of it. While the concept does fly high, it also flies straight. For those readers who might be put off by speculative fiction, The Midnight Library is a charming way into the genre ... The whole novel has the air of a skilful exercise designed to confront depression and anxiety. What’s the best that could happen in your life, and what’s the worst? What can you change, and what can’t you? These are big questions that are difficult to respond to with elegance and depth, and sometimes in moments of Nora’s elation or suicidal lows, the narration lapses into the trite and obvious ... Contrary to the fantastical premise, the novel turns out to be a celebration of the ordinary: ordinary revelations, ordinary people, and the infinity of worlds seeded in ordinary choices.
... reads like a dream and provides so much joy and wonder that you will not want it to end. When Mrs. Elm explains to Nora early in the novel that '[b]etween 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?' it is hard for her or the reader to contain themselves. This is because the answer is an undeniable 'yes,' and what comes next are the things that dreams are made of.
The Midnight Library offers a unique form of post-modernism in that it seeks an honest and desperate return to sincerity. It captures, with humor and a touch of irony, the themes of restlessness, disappointment, disaffection, and the constant desire to do things differently ... Haig’s novel is a testament to human capacity and a philosophical meditation on what our choices say about us. With language that is compact yet elegant, Haig crafts a story about life, death, and everything in between, ultimately reminding us that 'the game is never over until it’s over.'
... becomes just a shade repetitive, as if the book contained one or two lives too many for its own structural strength ... comes across mainly as a light-touch fictional reworking of Haig’s thinking about how human hearts, minds and souls can recover from a depressive crisis of meaning, which robs life of all its colour and joy, and any sense of its boundless potential. The book is not elegantly written, but the story has an engaging, page-turning quality, and the dialogue is often powerful and pithy, even if Mrs Elm’s library musings sometimes smack too much of homespun philosophy, or a positive thinking manual.
Haig brings fresh impetus to these ideas ... [Haig's] experiences lend depth to Nora’s emotional turmoil and journey back from the brink. He also has an appealingly dry wit ... The novel is not entirely successful, though. Nora learns many life lessons over the course of the story, and Haig rarely misses an opportunity to spell them out. He can be platitudinous at times, and his didactic approach occasionally undermines the novel’s appeal. It would be better if he trusted the reader more to draw their own conclusions from Nora’s adventures ... Nevertheless, The Midnight Library is a beguiling read, filled with warmth and humour, and a vibrant celebration of the power of books to change lives.
This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable ... A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.
... charming if sometimes laborious ... While the formula grows repetitive, the set changes provide novelty, as Haig whisks Nora from Australian beaches to a South American rock concert tour to an Arctic encounter with a polar bear. Haig’s agreeable narrative voice and imagination will reward readers who take this book off the shelf.