Books are a funny thing, sometimes you can see a book that everyone is talking about and think nothing of it, have no interest in reading. Some time later, that same book can suddenly seem to be the one that you need to read in that moment of your life. This happened to me with «The Midnight Library», a book that had been in my periphery for quite some time but never found the time to read it, until the other day I saw it in a store and bought it. Without me knowing this was the book that I needed to read at this moment in my life. I will attempt now to convey why I truly loved this book, but fear not, for there will be no spoilers in this review.
«The Midnight Library» uses the quite common idea in science fiction and fantasy of parallel universes in quite a distinct and unique way. In this book we follow Nora Seed, a downtrodden woman who after a series of bad events takes a difficult choice that unexpectedly lands her in the Midnight Library, a place that seems to be in a dimension beyond time where she can visit her other lives, lives where she took crucial different decisions at crossroads of her life. Decisions that she regrets not taking and that constantly plague her in her current life. As she reads and experiences the books in the library she comes to understand herself better, she learns to appreciate things in other ways and comes to an important decision that affects her future.
In other circumstances, I suspect this book would have been just another read for me. Whilst it is without a doubt a great story, I normally do not gravitate towards this sort of novels. However, reading at this moment in my life, I have really come to love and connect with this story. Nora is a character that is quite easy to understand for many people, we all have felt like her at different points and thus can empathize with her feelings at many points of the story. Fair warning though, the beginning of the book can be quite hard to read, especially considering the decision that ultimately leads her to find the Midnight Library. That said, this resonated with me in a deeper level and can’t recommend enough this book.
The premise, as I stated before, is quite common and simple but even though I have read and seen this idea developed before, there is something quite special here. Perhaps it is the delicate tone that the story is handled, or the way we can truly understand both the strangeness and disconcerting feelings that Nora is experiencing, alongside the wonders and possibilities that she is now privy too.
This book is about regrets, the difficulties of the day to day and not finding your place in life, but it also, ultimately about hope and love. It is about coming to terms with the decisions in your past and understanding them to keep growing in the future. The main characters experience many lives, she becomes an Olympic winning swimmer, a rock star, a local pub owner, an adventurous glaciologist, a mother etc… All different, but all slowly teach the value of life, the value of accepting your past and your decisions and moving forward, learning from your past but now being trapped by it.
This story is well served by a fast pace, that keeps you invested and involved in the story as we move through the different lives. This is helped by a simple, yet delicate and captivating style of writing. Alongside a touching narrative you will find in many instances, doses of humor sprinkled throughout (specially when we see Nora trying to integrate herself in her many different lifes without giving away that she has no idea about the past of this Nora), you will find it hard to put this book down. It took me less than two full days to read this novel, and it would have been less but sleep and my job kept me from reading.
That said, the thing that draws you in to this book, the fact that makes this a must read is how Matt Haig writes Nora Seed, the main protagonist. At all times in the book, from the first page to the last one, you understand her and relate to her. Many of us, if not all, have experienced in some degree or another, the feelings that Nora is having at the beginning of the story and as the story develops we are able to comprehend and share all the lessons she learns throughout. Nora explores each book, with inquisitiveness and curiosity, the same way we are experiencing the story and you can’t help but cheer for Nora all along, especially towards the end as she starts to understand the lessons that the Midnight Library is giving her.
This was a touching book, a book that is reaffirming and shows us that no matter how hard evetything can get, there are joys and great things to be found by sampling living. It reminds us that as heart breaking as life can get, there is always hope at the end. Like I stated, this book came to me in the exact moment I needed and is a special read. There is a quote that stuck with me and that I will share with you, as I feel it perfectly encapsulates this book:
“It is easy to mourn the lives we aren’t living. Easy to wish we’d developed other talents, said yes to different offers. Easy to wish we’d worked harder, loved better, handled our finances more astutely, been more popular, stayed in the band, gone to Australia, said yes to the coffee or done more bloody yoga […] But it is not lives we regret not living that are the real problem. It is the regret itself.”
I can confidently say that you will love this book, a book that combines a science fiction trope, with some fantasy sprinkles and has in many ways an ethereal feel to it. A beautiful, heart breaking but also life affirming novel, all I can hope is that you enjoy it as much as I did. I for one, am looking forward to reading more from this author as this was my first approach, but certainly not the last, to his stories. Be prepared for an emotional book, be prepared for a wonderful journey and if you do read it, please share with me your thoughts.