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In Review: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Written by Isobel Neill

Perhaps an embodiment of the phrase ‘the grass is not always greener on the other side’, The Midnight Library is another beautiful, thought-provoking novel from the author of How to Stop Time and Notes on a Nervous Planet. It is simplistic, yet rife with warm, perspective-shifting messages that I hope to hold onto for a while. 

Throughout Nora Seed’s life, she felt weighed down by her regrets. In the Midnight Library, a liminal space between life and death, each regret represents an alternate life path, compiled into a book. Here, Nora is able to experience any life of her choosing; firmly believing that within one of them she will find herself happier. In doing so, Nora discovers the extent to which throughout her life she prioritized those around her, instead of herself.

Admittedly, I didn’t find the novel as groundbreaking as several reviews indicated. Haig’s exploration of the concept of infinite realities could have been developed further and at times the storyline felt a little predictable. However, The Midnight Library undoubtedly deserves appreciation for the wonderful messages it delivered, and the clarity with which it did so. Crucially, Haig uses Nora’s story to remind readers of the dangers of comparison and encourages us to value our own actions more; to give ourselves more credit for existing.

As someone who often spends time second-guessing whether I’ve made ‘correct’ decisions, big and small, I found this book very comforting. It taught me that I should trust my judgment more and that most of the time, things are not black and white – there are no ‘correct’ decisions, nor one set ‘perfect’ version of one’s life.

‘We spend so much time wishing our lives were different, comparing ourselves to other people and to other versions of ourselves when in reality most lives contain degrees of good and degrees of bad’, writes Haig.

I think this is an exceptionally important message to hear right now (even as life inches closer towards normality), as during lockdown especially, many people set themselves high standards for personal achievements (e.g. to start a small business, or transform their appearance, etc.). Under capitalism, we feel pressured to partake in an atmosphere of competition and comparison that, in modern life is facilitated by social media. Nora for one, found herself constantly measuring her self-worth via social media platforms which were detrimental to her mental health. The Midnight Library reminded me that, despite the pressure, it is perfectly okay to simply be in these difficult, unprecedented times.

The novel is short, though arguably perfect in length. It was perhaps not long enough for me to feel fully connected with Nora’s character – despite her relatability, though I wonder whether this was Haig’s intention. By this, I mean that for me it is instead a novel that prioritizes space for the reader’s personal interpretation and the lessons they take from it afterwards.

Written by Isobel Neill