“It is easy to mourn the lives we aren’t living. Easy to wish we’d developed other 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. It’s the regret that makes us shrivel and wither and feel like our own and other people’s worst enemy. We can’t tell if any of those other versions would have been better or worse. Those lives are happening, it is true, but you are happening as well, and that is the happening we have to focus on.”Matt Haig
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Published by Viking, 2020
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Re-readability: I might come back to this one.
Reviewed by Indiana
Synopsis from the publisher:
“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 new 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.”
The opening tone is pretty bleak: “Twenty-seven hours before she decided to die, Nora Seed sat on her dilapidated sofa scrolling through other people’s happy lives, waiting for something to happen.”
In the ensuing pages she attempts suicide and ends up instead at The Midnight Library, a landing place where she can try out life paths that were seemingly closed to her during her life, or that she just decided not to take before. In one, she becomes an Olympic-level swimmer, in another she is a glaciologist. Others are simpler, she stays with the man she had left during her life.
Each chapter is a snippet of these lives, which she gets to explore the age-old question “What would have happened?” Unsurprisingly, she discovers that each life is uniquely imperfect, and after a while she starts to feel as though she’s lived as many lives as she could have had.
Through this unoriginal journey, Nora realizes that regret begets regret; that it’s a waste to zero in on it and forget about the path (or the life) you are living, rather than the one you could have lived.
This was a simply written and well-told story. Though the denouement was not completely satisfying, Haig managed to craft a hopeful and empowering message. Nora goes from waiting for things to happen at the start of the novel to making this happen: “It is quite a revelation to discover that the place you wanted to escape to is the exact place you escaped from. That the prison wasn’t the place, but the perspective.”
What did you think of this one?