“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 if you had made other choices … would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?”
So begins Matt Haig’s THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY, a provocative meditation on regret, failure, and the parallel lives of thirty-five year old protagonist, Nora Seed. Nora has recently been fired from her job and her cat Voltaire has died; she has had every opportunity to make something of herself, but has failed to develop the raw talent she’d been gifted. There were many things she could have been: an Olympic swimmer, a musician, a glaciologist, a writer, a philosopher, a wife, a mother – the possibilities were limitless, and she squandered them all. Nora decides that the best outcome is to retreat from the world – physically – and she takes an overdose of her antidepressant medication. When she wakes up, she’s somewhere between life and death in The Midnight Library. The librarian, Mrs. Elm, is one of the rare trusted adults from her childhood. In the library, she learns, there are thousands and thousands of books – all of them portals to all the lives she could be living. Pull a volume off the shelf and try on the world famous rock star life, or the glaciologist, the Olympian, the pub owner, or any number of lives being lived in any number of parallel universes. It’s a fascinating premise, an option that many of us would adventure to take, given the right opportunity. And that’s what makes THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY so much fun. All the what ifs answered.
Mrs. Elm also introduces Nora to a much larger, heavier volume – the Book of Regrets – and she begins to read. In this volume the what ifs are agonizing – the weight of guilt and sorrow and remorse like a noose around her neck. “Close it. You have to do it yourself,” Mrs. Elm advises Nora. Nora questions the point of it – and Mrs. Elm tells her that if she really wants to live one of the lives in the library, she will stay there as if she has always been there. Quoting Thoreau, Mrs. Elm reminds Nora, a philosophy major, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” And truly, Nora finds that when you change your perception, you change your reality. It’s easy to mourn the lives we aren’t living, Nora realizes, near the end of the book . . . but it’s not the lives we’re not living that are the problem, it’s the regret itself. The most radical change in Nora’s life happened not inside of another life, but inside of her.
The MIDNIGHT LIBRARY is imaginative, thought-provoking, and fun . . . it’s just what I needed to read during the polar vortex, a big-hearted read that gave me a fresh perspective on all the roads not taken.
This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews.