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?
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 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.