TW: Mentions of Suicide
Reading has been something that I have enjoyed since I was a child. Any subject, any genre, as long as I have a slight bit of interest in it, I will read it. I have been a tried and true classics, both cult and traditional, reader for a while now, mainly just as I worked my way through all that I wanted to read. I have always been a fast reader, getting through massive tomes like War and Peace and Infinite Jest in a matter of two weeks, but lockdown and online school has given me a lot of free-time and opened me up to a whole new reading speed. I compare it to when spaceships go into warp speed in the movies. Like the Millennium Falcon in hyperdrive, I have been reading book after book at an ungodly rate, and, as you would expect, have read through all the remaining books on my giant masterlist of 408 titles.
It was during a search for new books when I was recommended Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library by a friend of mine from high school. Based on the description of the book I was skeptical and almost didn’t read it. However, it was the first to arrive out of my massive book order, so I gave it a shot and I am so glad I did.
One night, when I was already tired, I picked the book up with the intention of reading only the first chapter. I did not expect, however, to finish it in one night.
This book follows a woman in her 30s by the name of Nora Seed. She is weighed down with the regrets of her life and is constantly reminded of things that could have been. She was a talented competitive swimmer that could have made it to the Olympics and a talented pianist ,in a band, that could have been a musician. She could have been a traveller. She could have been married to the man she was once with. She could have been happy.
Instead of starting over, Nora decides to commit suicide. She feels as if she has messed up her life beyond repair and contributes nothing to the world or to the people in it. And so she feels that no one will be impacted negatively by her death. Her attempts to overdose on pills and fade into nothing do not go as planned. Instead she wakes up in a library where every book she opens will give her a chance to live her life again, just slightly altered. Each new life is based on a decision she made before she killed herself. In one, she kept swimming and made it to the Olympics just like her father wanted. In another, she stayed in the band with her brother and they became famous. In yet another, she married her ex and they lived as pub owners in a small town.
Despite the differences of these realities, one thing remained consistent: Nora was never happy. That was the drawback of the library. In order for one to remain in the life of the book they chose, they had to be happy. All the doubt had to fade away and then you could live this life and eventually forget all about the one you left behind. Nora finds flaw after flaw in each life until she realizes that none of her potential occupations is what she wants anymore – and it never was in the first place. Nora realizes that in every alternate reality, each of the things she was doing was to please other people. She never truly got what she wanted.
Eventually Nora is tired of living these lives and, as the library crumbles around her, she wakes up in her real life with an entirely new outlook and a burning desire to make it right.
Throughout the book you feel Nora’s despair, her hope and her yearning for the “perfect life.” Everytime Nora opens a new book, you are pulled right into that story with her, wondering if this is finally the one she chooses. Haig has a way of making the story come to life and drawing you in so far that you get lost in the words. Reality suspends and you feel as if you are on the journey with Nora.
More than anything, The Midnight Library made me reevaluate my own life choices. At the time of reading this book (the beginning of 2021), I was majoring in education and hating every second of it. When I was a child and all the way through high school, I wanted to be a journalist, but somewhere along the way I let go of that dream in order to please others. This is the book that gave me the courage to take the plunge and change my major so that I can attempt to do what I have always wanted. It is because of this that I am now more sure about my future than I have ever been before.
I would undoubtedly give this book a five out of five star review. Haig has written a story that anyone can relate to. There are instances in all of our lives where we’re not so sure of a decision we’ve made or of the direction we are taking our life, and we keep it all inside for fear of being judged. The Midnight Library gives you a way to start that conversation with yourself. You can ask yourself, “Am I happy with my life now? Do I really like what I’m doing or how I’m doing it?” And if the answer to those questions is a solid “no,” then you can start the steps to make your life the way you want it to be before it gets to the point that you are ready to end it.
One of the ending quotes from the book tells an important message: “It is not the 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.”
I like to interpret this quote to mean that we have to focus on how we feel in the here and now and take care of that above anything else. You should not make big life decisions just to make those around you happy because if the people around you truly cared for you as a person, they would love and support you no matter what you wanted to do with your life.
If this book doesn’t give you a new outlook on life, then it will most definitely make you stop and think the next time you smile at someone cute, take up a new hobby or even stop doing a hobby you had. Which might just lead to some life changing decisions.