Book: The Midnight Library
Author: Matt Haig
Narrator: Carey Mulligan
BECHDEL TEST: Uncertain, honestly I didn’t keep track!
Content Warnings: Suicide attempt, depression, death of an animal, death of parents, death of a friend, anxiety, panic attacks, alcoholism, mentions of cancer, grief, self-harm, mentions of death by overdose, infidelity
The Midnight Library is one of those books that was seemingly everywhere in the second half of last year. I became aware of it after Matt Haig was on Jameela Jamil’s I Weigh podcast and was really drawn in by the concept of a library that contained all the different options for paths your life could have taken. In the end though, this was slightly overhyped for me, it was a nice enough book but nothing ground-breaking, it was kind of slow in places and I found the ending a real let down. Here is a short synopsis of the book:
‘Between 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?’
A dazzling novel about all the choices that go into a life well lived, from the internationally bestselling author of Reasons to Stay Alive and How To Stop Time.
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?
In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s enchanting novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.
My main issue with this book was our perennial friend, PACING. This book is relatively short, and has short chapters for the most part which usually works well for me, but because it’s a very introspective type of story, it takes a while to get going and there are definitely places where it lags. Weirdly, it actually felt longer than it needed to be, even though it was only a nine hour audiobook! I think if Haig had chosen less lives to explore for Nora but explored them in more detail, that would have helped with that, at times it felt like he was just trying to fit as many lives as possible into the book. I will admit that part of this is probably a me issue though as super introspective novels are not usually my thing!
On the upside, Carey Mulligan’s narration was really great, she has a lovely soothing voice and it was very easy to listen to her.
The library was also super cool! Yes, it’s more of a metaphorical representation of the multiverse than an actual library, but the idea was definitely really cool and I think my “Midnight Library” would definitely be a library or a bookstore (not that it’s appealing to go there since you would have to be dying!).
The chapter names were really great, I love it when authors name their chapters and one of them was “Why Would You Want Any Other Universe When This One Has Dogs?” to which I heartily concur.
I will admit, it’s super unrealistic for Nora to be super successful in all her lives? Like just because she followed through with music, swimming or being a glaciologist, doesn’t mean she would have been super successful at everything. I mean I get the point of The Midnight Library is to allow her to live out her dream lives, but it just felt like A LOT that she would be that successful at everything she did.
I had some issues with the actually working of the Midnight Library. For one thing, Nora doesn’t remember anything about the life that she’s entering, she’s basically taking the place of the version of her that had already been living the life. So this brought up a few issues for me: firstly, of course Nora isn’t going to be satisfied with a life she feels like an imposter in. So it’s not really giving her a fair shot at deciding whether a life is for her when she has to spend most of her time in a life finding out about what she was like in that life: I feel that if Nora had gone into her lives with the same knowledge and experiences of the version of herself who lived that life then the outcome would have been very different. It was weird to me that it took Nora so long to realise that her lack of knowledge going into a life was the reason why she was dissatisfied with all of them. I do appreciate that finding a new life wasn’t shown to be a cure for Nora’s depression, but I think it would be a lot more interesting if Nora had actually had the knowledge she needed about her other lives and still found them dissatisfying.
To that end, I also wish you found out what happened to the version of Nora who lived the lives she entered? Like does she just get pushed aside while you take over? What happens if you decide to stay in that life, does the version of you who was already there cease to exist? What happens to you in your root life if you decide to go to another life? There’s a lot of mechanics of the Midnight Library that aren’t really explored and as a world building nerd, I would have liked it if they had been!
Matt Haig’s writing was nice enough, though there were definitely times when it felt a little overly preachy and sentimental but generally it was nice enough to listen to.
I will admit, the characterisation in this was a bit flat. All the other characters around Nora are barely fleshed out and even Nora could have done with a little more development, she felt fairly flat like she was kind of just meant to be a blank slate for the reader to impose themselves on to rather than feeling like a developed, nuanced person.
It does get very repetitive, Nora tries out a life, isn’t satisfied, rinse, repeat. I mean that is one of the pitfalls of this kind of story, but as I said earlier in the review, I think this definitely could have been solved if she hadn’t tried out as many lives.
I wish she’d spent a bit more time with Hugo, or met some other sliders in the course of her book, because I felt like that plot thread kind of got dropped which was a shame as I thought it would be really cool to hear about what other people’s “Midnight Libraries” were like.
I did find it kind of annoying that the life she found the most fulfilment in had to be the one where she was a mother. Of course there’s nothing wrong in finding fulfilment in motherhood but it’s just the most common story pushed in media for women, and it would have been nice if this book hadn’t leaned into that.
The ending, UGH THE ENDING. It was so predictable and far too sickly sweet and easily wrapped up. I can’t really say more about it for spoilery reasons, but I actually would have been more surprised if he had gone for a different ending that perhaps might seem more expected. I mean I do get what Haig was trying to go for with the ending, but it just didn’t really work for me.
Overall, this was a decent read, but I think the hype got to me, as I found it kind of slow and wished that the mechanics of the Midnight Library, and the characters had been more developed.
My Rating: 3.5/5
My next review will be of my February #RockMyTBR read, The Silvered Serpents (sequel to The Gilded Wolves) by Roshani Chokshi