The Midnight Library by Matt Haig – a philosophical novel looking at regret and happiness.
The Midnight Library is Matt Haig’s most recent bestselling novel, claiming the top spot of the New York Times bestseller list for 34 weeks. Like Matt Haig’s previous bestseller How to Stop Time in which a man that has lived for centuries attempts to find happiness, The Midnight Library centres around the struggles of mental health in a comforting way. Haig exposes the struggles that many people have and consoles them, giving reasons for hope.
The novel opens with a young Nora at school and about to receive some bad news, this is the first of many of the events and experiences that Haig drip feeds to us that mark Nora’s life and situational depression up until the point that changes her life – the library ‘between life and death’. This library contains infinite stories of her other lives, the lives Nora Seed could have lived if she had made different choices. It’s a simple premise taking the reader through Nora’s life and the regrets she has in the present. Haig plays on and subverts the idea that regret is futile as we would never know the outcomes of decisions we never made. The concept of an infinite library reminds me of Jorge Luis Borges’ infinite Library of Babylon but here Haig allows access to the volumes, the contents that are the numerous lives that the protagonist Nora could have led if she had made different decisions. The novel is about the futility of regret at its core, the idea that we have sabotaged our own lives by taking the wrong path or, in this case, the wrong book. Nora is given access to an infinite number of different versions of her life, appearing to her as books on infinite shelves. As each book is chosen we get to see her life as it would be if she had made different choices from her ‘core life’. The language is simple and its themes explicit, the novel does not try to hide the messages that it’s trying to portray.
Overall, The Midnight Library is a gripping, comforting and gently philosophical read that speaks about mental health in a very real and comforting way. This is not a novel that focuses on the pain or the suffering day to day life of someone with mental health struggles and it doesn’t try to be, or I think aim to be, so blisteringly honest or brutal but to convey a message of hope and an idea that life is not something to be taken for granted. As someone that suffers from depression himself, I imagine that Haig was writing it to be a source of comfort like a mug of tomato soup on an autumn day.