Maybe it’s a case of right book, right time, but even though there are some things I didn’t quite click with, this book hit me HARD. And for a fiction book, it made me stop so many times while reading to think about the messages being presented within it’s pages. Not so much about the story, more like you would if you were reading a non-fiction book about life, creativity, self help/introspection, or, well, pick your poison.
The theme presented in The Midnight Library is, at it’s core, relatively simple and straight-forward. Nora is unhappy in her life. She’s depressed, everything keeps falling apart for her, and she feels she has screwed up every opportunity she had to make a life for herself and decides to kill herself. But she’s granted the opportunity to visit The Midnight Library, the magical place that exists for some in the space between life and death. A place full of infinite books that all contain different variations of her life, variations resulting from different choices made along the way. While it’s wrapped in a super fun story, getting to see Nora become the rock star or Olympic swimmer she always dreamed about, the main theme is still the same.
Is the grass actually greener on the other side?
We all know the answer to this from our own life experience. But the book wrestles with the question in a fun and intriguing story told through the eyes of Nora, but allows plenty of space for us to consider the story from our very own perspectives at the same time.
To be blunt, the root premise of the story is fairly standard story-fare, but Haig does a beautiful job of creating a character in Nora that I found myself side by side with on this journey as she discovered more and more about what she truly wants and needs out of life, which in turn had me thinking a lot about my own life, for better or worse.
The entire concept of a library full of books that contain nothing but all of the infinite possible lives in a total multi-verse/parallel universe style is incredibly fun to think about. Even though when you think on it long enough you start to realize how incredibly flawed the whole premise is. After all, how can you really know what a life is like by stepping into it for mere moments? Trying to step into someone else’s life for hours or days and being able to truly understand if it’s the right life for you feels like nothing more than playing pretend at a dangerous level.
Either way, Haig fills this book with super quotable moments, moments designed to make you pause and think about the implications of what is being said.
Moments like this:
It seems impossible to live without hurting people.’
‘That’s because it is.’
‘So why live at all?’
‘Well, in fairness, dying hurts people too. Now, what life do you want to choose next?’
Haig, Matt. The Midnight Library (p. 186). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
As enjoyable as all of those quotable moments are, they are also the one issue I had with this book. It’s an issue that might turn some off as they are reading and it’s important to be aware of it going in so you aren’t left feeling blindsided by it.
You see, while Nora’s story is designed to take us on a journey of a woman discovering what she really wants out of life, all of these moments and lessons can feel a bit preachy at times. While I enjoyed Nora’s story as it unfolded, the “lessons” the book was imparting were fairly predictable and pushed in your face, though Haig does a really nice job of weaving them all into Nora’s story as SHE is the one learning these lessons about herself, which kept me hooked. Like I said, right book at the right time maybe. But I can absolutely see people reading this book and feeling like they are reading nothing more than the annoying “positivity and inspirational memes” found all over Facebook. Your own personal “Hang in there kitten hanging by a single claw” meme hell.
As I already said, the main theme of this book is Nora’s journey of self discovery as she tests the age old question of the grass being greener on the other side. However, the secondary theme of this book is her feeling of self worth versus perceived worth by others. How much do we need to pursue only that which makes us happy versus seeking approval from others?
For me it became a big question of where is the line where a person should be able to to say “I need to follow MY dreams, MY happiness” vs needing to feel the weight of the world of worrying about how our own actions impact/are viewed by the world around us?
It’s an interesting question that the book dances around from both viewpoints, at times shouting “You do you! Forget what anyone else says! Stop waiting for a permission slip to live your best life!” from the rooftops and at other times playing the Ghost of Christmas Future and focusing solely on how Nora’s actions are viewed by and impact everyone else in her life in a way that seems to reinforce the idea of “You need to make sure you’re making the right choice, the choice that is best for everyone around you, stop being selfish and choosing your needs over those of others”. However, I’m not sure if the book knowingly covers both sides of these life issues or if it just talks itself in a circle without realizing it.
If you are put off by a story line that only thinly veils the more self-help style life advice present in this book, you may not enjoy this book all that much.
However, if you enjoy a story that is a journey of self discovery, of uncovering hidden and suppressed secrets we don’t even know we’re hiding, and a story that allows you to pause and reflect on what is most important to you in your own life as the fictional tale unfolds in a beautifully magical setting that is at once inspiring and heartbreaking, then I think you’re going to love The Midnight Library.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig gets 4 out of 5 stars
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