Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction.
Publisher: Canongate Books
Review in one word: Fluff
A lot of people raved and hyped about this book and a friend recommended this to me, because he spent a long night in the cafe reading it. This is an indulgent, compulsive and enjoyable read, sort of like wading through a pool of candy floss or attending a three day self-love seminar run by Oprah.
Trigger warning though, it does have strong references to suicide in the beginning chapter. The book starts off with protagonist Nora Seed attempting to take her own life. She feels helpless, directionless and has been a people-pleaser for her whole life. She is thrust into a magical library:
“Between life and death there is a library,’ she said. ‘And within that library, the shelves go on for ever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be different if you had made other choices … Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?”
Nora gains the chance to live her life according to a new cascade of choices and circumstances that could have resulted in her becoming a rock star, a co-owner of a pub, an elite athlete, a devoted mother, an Arctic explorer.
This makes for some immersive and interesting forays into different alternate universes. Overall this book is a fun and mindless adventure in the way that traverses and slips between worlds.
This book will also provoke an interesting thought for you – Would you have chosen a different path if you could do it all over again?
There’s a tacit understanding that these other dimensions and opportunities for fame and fortune are all equally the same for all readers, if only we will them into existence, tried hard and made the right decisions in life.
This individualistic, almost aggressive imperative that one controls one’s own path to happiness completely didn’t feel authentic to me, because everyone has a complex array of factors that influence whether or not they are “successful” or “happy” in life. Those two metrics success and happiness are completely subjective to us as individuals but also imposed upon us by culture.
Factors include: physical and mental health, where you grew up, how much money your parents earned, if your parents encouraged you to do further study, if your parents drank, smoked or took drugs, if you came from an abusive family, if you live in a country that is politically unstable etc. etc.
Nora as a character is a bit one-dimensional. Other than being depressed and feeling negative about life, we don’t really learn much about her and her personality. As a result it is very difficult to care about what she does and what happens to her.
There is a distinct lack of substance to the other characters too. We don’t really know how any of them look or who they are. These other characters are like ghost satellites revolving around Nora and propelling the plot along.
Throughout her journeys in alternate universes, Nora has epiphanies that come across as a bit cringy and obvious:
And … and the thing is … the thing is … what we consider to be the most successful route for us to take, actually isn’t. Because too often our view of success is about some external bullshit idea of achievement – an Olympic medal, the ideal husband, a good salary. And we have all these metrics that we try and reach. When really success isn’t something you measure, and life isn’t a race you can win.
“You don’t have to understand life. You just have to live it.”
“She wasn’t a black hole, she decided. She was a volcano. And like a volcano, she couldn’t run away from herself. She’d have to stay there and tend to that wasteland.
She could plant a forest inside herself.”
Matt Haig has battled with his own demons of depression and anxiety which has no doubt provided insights for this book. His book, The Midnight Library expresses his own revelations and wisdom after having battled depression in a literary form, and by doing so has mastered his art. I respect him deeply for doing that.
On a positive note – many, many people loved this book. If this book is a catalyst for getting some readers out of depression, or a funk, crisis or a difficult time in their lives – then it’s a superb achievement and has done its job of being both fantasy fiction and a self-help book.
For me, The Midnight Library was a rollicking good time and a mindbending journey. I enjoyed reading this and devoured it very quickly, despite also cringing about it for the reasons mentioned above. I would recommend this for an evening of pure escapism but expect to feel a bit bloated and unsatisfied afterwards, like you’ve just woofed down a double cheeseburger.
2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig”
I thought the premise of this was very intriguing; it’s too bad you didn’t like it a whole lot. I’ll have to try it for myself sometime. Nice review!😊
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Thank you for reading my review Ikwords 🤓 glad you will still give it a go and my review hasnt put you off. Let me know what you think if you do read it
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