I loved the concept of The Midnight Library by Matt Haig as soon as I read the blurb. A young woman finds herself in the mysterious midnight library where she can choose a book, live a version of her life as it might have been and so mend the regrets and disappointments she has with her life already lived.
Nora Seed has had a horrible day and wishes she was dead. She has let everyone, including herself, down. Her brother isn’t talking to her. She’s lost her job. And her cat is dead. ‘Every move had been a mistake, every decision a disaster, every day a retreat from who she’d imagined she’d be. Swimmer. Musician. Philosopher. Spouse. Traveller. Glaciologist. Happy. Loved.’ She has a long list of things she can’t do and no list of what she has achieved.
Instead of dying Nora meets the enigmatic Mrs Elm, librarian at Nora’s school nineteen years ago. Between life and death, explains Mrs Elm, there is a library. ‘Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be different if you had made other choices.’ In a kind of literary Sliding Doors combined with It’s a Wonderful Life, Nora walks into lives she may have lived. Each life contains people and places Nora knows but who she feels out-of-touch with or is assumed to have a knowledge or skill she doesn’t possess. Consequently, she spends a fair amount of time fibbing and winging her way through situations, trying to keep her rather strange secret and lying to people she is supposed to care about. The deal with the midnight library is that if she feels disappointment in the life she is sampling, she will be returned to the library.
In a predictable character curve, in each life Nora visits she learns something about herself. Some lives we see in detail, others in half a page. This left me unsatisfied. I wanted more, for her to stay longer in situations, to see what she learned. I was left feeling this is a novel combined with a mental health guide to living with depression and regrets. Matt Haig is a successful non-fiction author about the subject but sadly I finished this novel feeling I had bought a novel and been given a self-help guide. In some places, the exposition got in the way of Nora’s story. That said, Haig has a light hand at writing comedy and there are some wonderful moments that made me chuckle. One being Nora’s telephone conversation with her film star boyfriend. The other is when she finds out what being a ‘spotter’ in the Arctic really means.
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THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY by @matthaig1 #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-50r via @SandraDanby