The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
The Midnight Library, written by Matt Haig, is a fantasy novel exploring regret, perspective, and mental health. The main character Nora, a woman in her mid-thirties, is diagnosed with situational depression, and after a series of events including losing her job, the death of her cat, and her fraying relationships, she attempts to overdose. Instead of dying, she finds herself in a library representing a space between life and death, in which she has the opportunity to explore different versions of her life, had she made different decisions. There are an infinite number of versions of her life, each represented by a book. By selecting a book, she is able to experience a different version of her life; if she’s satisfied with the life she tries out, she’ll live within that life, eventually forgetting about the library and her previous existence.
I enjoyed The Midnight Library’s discussion of regret and the impact of making different life choices on a person’s life. The fear of making the “wrong” choice and living with that regret is a common experience, and I appreciated the lessons from Nora’s library. I liked that regret was explored in a fantasy fiction novel, rather than in a self-help book and the content surprisingly didn’t feel forced. Throughout the novel, the reader is given the space to interpret and slowly absorb the various lessons that are brought forth, without the directness and preachiness of a self-help book. I liked that through its fictional and fantastical narrative, I was given the chance to interpret the events and make sense of them myself, forcing me to personally analyze Nora’s perspectives, and in turn, my own. The novel was refreshing, especially in a world of social media in which we’re seemingly inundated with self-help content. The Midnight Library felt like both a literary escape and a reflective challenge.
Spoiler alert: The following discusses some major themes from the novel, as well as alludes to some of the key moments in the book. Skip to the third last paragraph to avoid these topics:)
The book demonstrates how your life is probably not going to be all that much “better” had you made other decisions. We might think that, had we made other choices, we would be happier, or more confident. Our lives are instead made up of smaller moments of connection and meaning. These moments are just as valid and important to our own well–being as our big accomplishments. They’re also arguably more important than what we think we may gain from making our decisions and achieving success based on internal and external pressures.
“Love and laughter and fear and pain are universal currencies. We just have to close our eyes and savour the taste of the drink in front of us and listen to the song as it plays. We are as completely and utterly alive as we are in any other life and have access to the same emotional spectrum.”
Another lesson I took away from reading The Midnight Library was that a lot of the bad things that happen in our lives, the relationships that fail or the treatment we receive, is not a reflection of ourselves but a reflection of individual struggles. No matter how our actions change, we ultimately have no power to change someone else. The author brought up an interesting conversation about family dynamics, trauma, and navigating pressure we experience to live out certain lives, and the pain that can bring. Instead, honouring yourself and your own desires is most likely going to bring greater peace.
Throughout the book, I had a sense of the type of future I could envision for the main character in terms of how she could live a fulfilling life, but I didn’t fully understand or consciously think about why that was. The book helped me explore and challenge my own thoughts in ways I wasn’t expecting. For instance, at one point I was expecting her (+ almost wanted her) to live a life that went against the aforementioned sense I had about which life was best for her. However, she ultimately rejected it. Sometimes, when a book’s purpose is to communicate a life lesson, the storyline can feel predictable. Throughout the novel, I found myself wondering what might happen at the end of the story and I felt as though my expectations were challenged.
The Midnight Library was written by a male author, and I found this interesting to note because I often wonder how a man’s perspective might impact their depiction of a woman’s thoughts and experiences, especially if they are the main character. I didn’t find, however, that I was reading a story about a woman’s life through a man’s lens. While this should be the goal for a writer crafting a character’s narrative, sometimes it does influence, to an obvious degree, the character’s development. The character’s positionality did naturally inform her experiences, however they weren’t the centre of The Midnight Library. The main character is privileged in some ways, and had she been a person of colour or from a different socioeconomic background, her experiences would have been different. The book is more of a commentary on mental health and regret without factoring in social influences, which is important to recognize while reading.
Seeing a woman who was on a path to textbook success and yet experienced hardships, mental health struggles, and feelings of self-doubt served to validate these experiences for me as the reader. Mental health and the concept of regret, which I think are common experiences, were placed at the centre of The Midnight Library. Because of this, I think The Midnight Library is an introspective and personal read that many people could learn from.
I appreciated the themes explored in The Midnight Library, and found they were themes that I needed to hear as a 20-year-old, particularly as a lot of people in their 20s are forced to confront ideas of potential regret, indecision, and pressure. The ability to positively change how you view decision–making and your capacity to fully experience life will shape what you get out of future experiences. It was well–written and I now have a lot of quotable lines from it. I enjoyed the story line, although I felt like it was slightly drawn out at times. The ending was satisfying and I learned a lot from it. For these reasons I give it a ⅘; I would recommend it to all.