Matt Haig’s New York Times bestselling novel “The Midnight Library,” reached me at an opportune time. I found this rather fitting because the main protagonist, Nora, must grapple with her choices and the squandering of potential. This can be chalked up to timing as much as it can be to her frame of mind. Excitement and trepidation were bound up together in me before I even reached page one. The inner flap seemed to know all the right words and how to put them together in the correct sequence to grab me. Like a con artist knowing exactly how to work their mark. “Between life and death there is a library,” was all I needed, but what it contains promises “It’s a Wonderful Life,” paired with the ability for the protagonist to inhabit potential lives, trying them on for size like a new coat.
Luckily, Matt Haig is no con artist. Haig writes with a keen eye towards protagonist Nora’s flaws, but with compassion that deftly illustrates that she is tougher on herself than him or us, the readers will ever be.
A day of disappointment and regret bubbling up to the surface leads Nora to reach a depressive low. She decides the life she’s made for herself is not worth living. Instead of crossing to the point of no return, she is transported to a library, very much like that of her childhood one. She is not alone, and like every good journey of self-reflection she has a mythical guide in the form of her nurturing child librarian. This hall of books contains vast knowledge, it is a gateway to Nora’s other lives. Lived in parallel to Nora’s root life, it is lives she has never known. She has a chance to see what could have happened had she made a different big choice or even small ones that ripple outward. What follows is a journey of the self and her choices.
What impressed me and confused me as I progressed throughout the story was I didn’t particularly like Nora. In fact, I might have even disliked her. I had this nagging feeling that there was a reason. The kind that alludes to you. Then it is crystal clear, and everything is illuminated. Like a can of worms, the reason was I saw her in me. Or at least, the worst parts of my indecision, self-sabotage, and victimization. Nora wants to be better, but as intelligent, compassionate, and self-aware she can be, there is a wave of doubt, fear, and regret waiting in the wings to steamroll her.
Luckily for her, opening her eyes to these experiences shows that there are many lives where she has achieved greatness and fame, but more importantly love peace, and stability. This book could have become preachy, and for some it might veer too close to that territory. Personally, if it reached me during a depressive episode or more recently at the height of this pandemic, I might be writing a different kind of review. In fact, a parallel me be doing that at this exact moment! Life has given me hardships like anyone else, and during those struggles’ things seem as if they will never get better. I think for myself this hole gets so big all I see is darkness. There is no light shining and no exit imaginable. But this life we inhabit is filtered through our perception, which can be spinning due to numerous factors we have no control of.
Our perception feels very real, because what we process in our being is all filtered through our outlook. Perception is not absolute fact or reality though. This beautiful book helped to remind me that when I’m feeling great it’s difficult to imagine me feeling so low, so why am I surprised when the opposite can be true. Sometimes a shift in perspective makes all the difference.
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