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Review: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

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“Never underestimate the big importance of small things.”

My Interest

All of the hype aside, and there is PLENTY of hype on this one, I thought it sounded fun.

The Story

“Maybe that’s what all lives were, though. Maybe even the most seemingly perfectly intense or worthwhile lives ultimately felt the same. Acres of disappointment and monotony and hurts and rivalries but with flashes of wonder and beauty. Maybe that was the only meaning that mattered. To be the world, witnessing itself.”

Nora Seed’s life is going nowhere. Her job is ending. Her hometown, where she never wanted to end up, if going nowhere. In short, she isn’t even sure she wants to still live. Enter one of the few adults who encouraged and sustained her as a child–her school’s librarian, who now staffs a fantastic Midnight Library full of the books of Nora’s “lives.” Nora has only to pick a “book” and try a new life–the one where she is an X, or the one with Y or, maybe, just maybe that one with Z.

Who among us hasn’t engaged in a moment of fantasizing of what it might have been like to have married that boy in college or to have got that job in the big city or to have secured an agent at that conference or to have rowed in an Olympics. Well, lucky Nora gets to actually try these lives out. Along the way she encounters and re-encounters people from her past as well as a newbie who…[no spoilers].

As Nora tries the different possibilities of her life she explores who she is and finds herself struggling to decide which life is “best”.

“You don’t have to understand life. You just have to live it.”

She has tried all the versions of her life. She has liked parts of each and disliked, or at least not loved, parts of each as well. How will she choose which one to inhabit? I wish I could tell you here, but it would be a spoiler. “Sometimes regrets aren’t based on fact at all” –this quote smacked me in the face. It’s so true, but I’d never thought of it. Like Nora, I made my choices in life. I might have done this or that or married him or him, but in this end I lived my life.

“If you aim to be something you are not, you will always fail. Aim to be you. Aim to look and act and think like you. Aim to be the truest version of you. Embrace that you-ness. Endorse it. Love it. Work hard at it. And don’t give a second thought when people mock it or ridicule it. Most gossip is envy in disguise.”

My Verdict

This is a difficult book to review for nearly every thought leads to a spoiler of some degree or other. I do not like spoilers at all. Does it deserve the hype? Much of it. In spite of how beautifully written the story is, there were times when I felt scenes should have been cut. The “lives” were a few too numerous for me–especially [minor spoiler–Sorry!] when the lives started to be listed off one after the other, in a rapid-fire way. That cooled me off to the entire concept. It felt like “milking it” a bit. There were a few other scenes that needed pruning–not being cut out like that rapid-fire one, but pruned, cut back, shortened. Sadly, I must admit my attention span, though greatly improved by taking classes this year, often began to lag as yet another life took place.

 Then there were the occasional scientific rambles. Those left me behind entirely. I couldn’t follow such conversations, being completely lacking in knowledge of, or interest in, physics. Happily, such passages were few in number.

Was this the best book of the year? Is any book the best? I’d say it was one of the most enjoyable. We needed an escapist book like this after being cooped up by Covid all year. For that I am beyond grateful to have finally gotten my hands on it. I listened to the audio, which was wonderful.

I have had fun imagining how scenes will look in the inevitable movie version. I’ve started trying to cast the film, too. But will the story be left in the UK or sent over here to the USA by the filmmakers? I could see Oprah as the librarian, but I could also see Judi Dench. Kristen Scott Thomas for Joanne. Nora, who to play Nora! I haven’t worked that out yet. The book has been optioned for film so we’ll soon know who has been chosen to play the parts.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

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