I follow Matt Haig on Twitter so I knew a little bit about The Midnight Library before it was released and was keen to read it. What I really like about Matt Haig’s writing style is that he has a light touch when dealing with big issues. His fiction also falls firmly into my favourite genre – magical realism – so this was a solid bet as far as I was concerned although I knew I probably wouldn’t buy a hardback copy. Instead, I chose to listen to the audio version on Audible because I had some credits to redeem. I’m glad I did this as Carey Mulligan’s narration was ideal for this story. Her tone was measured and neutral with just the right amount of pathos. But although the voice suited the style of the novel, the complete package wasn’t my perfect cup of tea. I’ll try to explain why in this review.
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What if you could try out all the lives you could have lived and pick one? Would you choose differently?
‘Between life and death there is a library,’ she said. ‘And within that library, the shelves go on for ever. 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?’
Thirty-four-year-old Nora’s life could be better. She’s lonely, single and has just lost her job. Her cat dying feels like the last straw. What else is there to live for? Then she finds a library between life and death where she gets to try all the other lives she could have lived.
The Midnight Library is a gloriously relatable novel about life, death and the in-between. It is about finding hope, playing chess, dumping regrets and picking the right people around you.
The library was the main reason that I wanted to read this novel. Multiple lives stored in books! What bibliophile wouldn’t want to explore this scenario? To an extent, readers travel in their minds like this on a daily basis anyway, but Matt Haig takes the idea and expands upon it to wondrous effect. I suppose if I’m ultra-picky then I would’ve liked more detail about the actual library itself rather than the books, but then this would’ve resulted in a very different kind of novel. It’s the various existences that matter here and without giving too much away, they’re ones which many of us will have contemplated at some point. Haig definitely knows how to tap into the psyche of the everywoman.
The explanation behind the library was fine for me, but some may hanker for a deeper reason (I suspect they’ll be in a minority though). And I liked the way that the tale juggled varying possibilities – including crossovers between lives.
Mental health and wellbeing are key themes in The Midnight Library. The novel begins as main character, Nora Seed spirals into depression and feeling worthless, eventually takes her own life. Her descent is gut wrenching but sadly I felt that the impact in the first section was diminished by the countdown at the beginning of each chapter. It seemed a little too gimmicky to me.
Once she reaches rock bottom, Nora has the chance to confront her regrets and examine her life from all angles. This is where the book excels. Matt Haig takes all our fears about paths not taken and re-orientates them in a positive direction. A glass half-full rather than half-empty.
The Midnight Library has a linear narrative that’s made up from many layers. This is both a strength and a weakness. We see the core characters from multiple angles, yet the changing worlds mean we never get a solid view of most of the people who reappear in Nora’s life. The cast is extensive too (bearing in mind the amount of lives she experiences) is both fascinating and distracting. Occasionally I felt as if I were scrolling through a social media feed, wanting to linger and simultaneously eager to move to the next shiny scene. (As an aside I wonder whether we’ll look back at books written during this period and see aspects of online behaviour reflected in the prose?)
Overall, the multi-dimensional properties of The Midnight Library were a win for me though. Self-reflection lies at the heart of the story so these viewpoints were part of Nora’s (and our) learning curve.
Reading back over this review, it seems lukewarm, but I think Matt Haig has created something special here. The Midnight Library is a little light on detail in places. However, this makes it accessible and easy to read. It has a generous, comforting feel that welcomes you in with open arms, takes away your fears and pushes you back out into the world with renewed energy. If you’re feeling disillusioned or lacking in purpose then read The Midnight Library. It contains hope for everyone.
- Author: Matt Haig
- Narrator: Carey Mulligan
- Format: Audiobook
- Listening Length: 8 hours and 49 minutes
- Publisher: Canongate Publishing
- Version: Unabridged
- ASIN: B085LJ5BVY
Buy The Midnight Library Audible Audiobook | Amazon
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