Nathan reviews The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, Viking, 2020, 288 pages.
From the instant the reader meets Nora, it is clear that something is different about her. Even from a young age, she seems aimless in life, as if she is a victim of circumstances in her own life. In the process, life itself got away from her as opportunities slipped through her fingers and high hopes crashed down around her.
The first few chapters each start with a period of time and “before she decided to die.” This countdown builds up so much anxiety, curiosity, immediacy, and sadness before the first sentence is even finished. In those chapters we see what is left of Nora’s life erode away quickly. Everything that gave her some sense of purpose or way in which she could contribute to those around her evaporated in mere hours. As time counted down, the mood would get more hopeless. She did not want to face another day, and had made up her mind. That is, until she got to midnight. From then, time did not continue, not as one would expect anyway. Her journey, however, took a turn into a most unexpected place: a library. One that just so happens to exist between life and death.
The Midnight Library, obviously, is no ordinary library. Imagine volumes filled with every possible choice you have ever been presented as well as every conceivable option to those choices and the lives that would have followed. The checkout policy is also not quite what one would expect from a standard library either. Imagine Marvel’s multiverse full of just you (sorry, no superpowers). Nora experiences multiple glimpses of what her life could have been had she simply made different choices. Regrets, desires, they all come into focus through the books Nora chooses. This limbo could be seen as both enlightening and maddening at the same time.
As far-fetched as this concept may seem, Nora is not the only one experiencing this phenomenon. Thanks to this mysterious “slider,” Nora is able to get some answers to this fleeting existence, but she also gets more questions as well. Of course, she must continue the process in order to find the answers she desires. Little by little, she realizes she was aiming too high (or low) with her life (or lives?). Instead, she needs to focus on the little things in life that could bring about a better result.
If you remember nothing else from the book, keep the following quote in mind: “Never underestimate the big importance of small things.”