Imagine you had the opportunity to try on different lives – parallel (or perpendicular) to the one you lead. Who and where would you be, had you made a different choice at some point in your past? Would you take the chance to undo your regrets? Nora Seed does not want to live anymore. She is drowning in her regrets, unloved and unneeded, unable to change her situation. Nora decides to end her life but after swallowing the pills she finds herself in the Midnight Library: the place between life and death. Every book on its endless shelves contains an alternative life and she gets the chance to dive into them, trying to find one that makes her happy, that makes her want to stay. Nora opens many books. She becomes a rock star, an Olympic swimmer, owner of a vineyard, a glaciologist facing polar bears; sometimes she is a mother, sometimes she is successful, sometimes she is sad and full of regrets.
Matt Haig has a brilliant way of addressing mental health. His non-fiction book Reasons to Stay Alive is a great account of depression and how to overcome it. The deeply personal insights he explored in his earlier book find their way into The Midnight Library as well. Haig addresses a wide variety philosophical questions and psychological issues: regrets, what-ifs, mistakes, hopelessness, insecurities, love and above all the meaning of life. The journey through her alternative selves is above all a journey through the “original” Nora’s self. This is not a novel with an elaborate plot, or many refined characters. Instead, it seems to be more of a mind game to deal with anxiety and depression. While some statements and conclusions found here might sound a little clichéd or trite, others are incredibly charming and accurate. The setting might be fantastical, but what Matt Haig highlights through Nora’s experiences is the pleasure of the ordinary life, with all its mundane nuisances and existential struggles. The Midnight Library is a true page-turner, it draws you into its enchanting little world, while all the same discussing life-crises and the darkness our minds are capable of producing in a realistic fashion. Matt Haig encourages everyone to keep on exploring, to keep on searching, to keep on living because, after all, possibilities in life are endless and “the only way to learn is to live.”