The Midnight Library: A Novel

by Matt Haig

Hardcover, 2020




Viking (2020), Edition: 1st Edition, 304 pages


"'Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. 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?' A dazzling novel about all the choices that go into a life well lived, from the internationally bestselling author of Reasons to Stay Alive and How To Stop Time. Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better? In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig's enchanting new novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place"--… (more)


½ (2050 ratings; 3.8)

Media reviews

If you’ve never pondered life’s contingencies—like what might’ve happened if you’d skipped the party where you met your spouse—then Matt Haig’s novel The Midnight Library will be an eye-opening experience. This gentle but never cloying fable offers us a chance to weigh our regret over
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missed opportunities against our gratitude for the life we have.... [Haig's] allusions to multiverses, string theory and Erwin Schrödinger never detract from the emotional heart of this alluring novel.... Haig brings her story to a conclusion that’s both enlightening and deeply satisfying.
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Few fantasies are more enduring than the idea that there might be a second chance at a life already lived, some sort of magical reset in which mistakes can be erased, regrets addressed, choices altered.... The narrative throughout has a slightly old-fashioned feel, like a bedtime story. It’s an
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absorbing but comfortable read, imaginative in the details if familiar in its outline. The invention of the library as the machinery through which different lives can be accessed is sure to please readers and has the advantage of being both magical and factual. Every library is a liminal space; the Midnight Library is different in scale, but not kind. And a vision of limitless possibility, of new roads taken, of new lives lived, of a whole different world available to us somehow, somewhere, might be exactly what’s wanted in these troubled and troubling times.
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...“between life and death there is a midnight library,” a library that contains multiple volumes of the lives she could have had if she had made different choices.... Haig’s latest (after the nonfiction collection Notes on a Nervous Planet, 2019) is a stunning contemporary story that
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explores the choices that make up a life, and the regrets that can stifle it. A compelling novel that will resonate with readers.
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An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.... This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora
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will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable. A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
Nora has had it with her boring life, a life at which she feels she has failed. So she takes some pills to end her life--and wakes up in a library. Not a typical library though. This library is filled with shelves as far as the eye can see that are full of book after book after book, and every book
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is the story of the life of Nora. Or rather the story of ONE of the lives of Nora, depending on which choice or choices she has made along the way. So this is a story about multiple versions of one character's life, which can result in a very good read, think Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, which I loved.

But, sorry to say, Matt Haig is no Kate Atkinson. His writing is mundane, and his versions of the lives Nora are more made-for-TV versions, stereotypical, simplistic, unoriginal, and not fully convincing as reality. (I.e. should she become an Olympic swimmer, or a world-wide rock star?) So even though the book is readable, it's pretty juvenile, and there's no there there.

2 stars
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LibraryThing member DanTarlin
Often I read a book I don't love and think: "cool concept, but...". But this time I kept thinking "dumb concept". It's an easy read, though, and with a nice emotional payoff at the end.

The book follows Nora, a woman in her 30s having a terrible day in the midst of what she sees as a terrible life:
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she loses her job and her cat dies. In the bigger picture, she has lost both her parents, her brother won't talk to her, and she regrets all the opportunities she has squandered: she was a champion swimmer, was in a potentially successful rock band, wanted to be a glaciologist, etc.

So Nora takes an overdose of pills, and is transported to the "midnight library", staffed by the librarian from her school days. In the library is an infinite number of books, each telling a version of Nora's life up until that time, based on her past decisions. She is told she can choose any version, and go live that life from that moment. If she feels she fits in any of those lives, she can just stay there. The remainder of the book is about her different lives and the lessons she learns along the way.

As I indicated at the top, I find the concept silly. Much of the book consists of the librarian describing the somewhat random rules of the library- not that interesting. The author seems to have taken a lot of philosophy in college (as did his protagonist), and seems learned and smart. But the lessons are kind of insipid- it feels like a fiction version of Tuesdays With Morey, treating banal observations about Life as Deep Thought. I'm not impressed.
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LibraryThing member funkyplaid
I love me some Matt Haig. I understand his prime directive, as it were, and I've closely followed his experiences and how he's struggled with emotional trials through his life and has emerged stronger, leveraging that hard-won wisdom to be a powerful advocate for mental health. I fully understand
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that Haig's journey and the many analogs and anecdotes relating to it are at the front and center of most of his work, whether memoir, children's novel, or literary fiction. In fact, I expect it, and I was blown away at the beauty of how it comfortably wove its way through his last book, How to Stop Time. That was one of the best works of fiction I've read in recent years, but The Midnight Library lacks so much of what made that previous book interesting, poignant, inspired, and touching.

The lightning in a bottle that Haig captured with How to Stop Time is noticeably absent here, and though The Midnight Library explores the same theme and many of the same self-doubts-turned-to-affirmations about the sanctity and worthiness of choosing life over death, the latter feels formulaic and wholly uninspired. It's as if Haig decided to attempt to write a self-help book steeped in urban fantasy via the style of Charles de Lint, with very little of de Lint's subtlety, creativity, and charm. And so the story comes out feeling forced and not a little awkward. Between the tweeness of the characters' nature-based names (Nora Seed, Mrs Elm, Ash) to the somewhat self-congratulatory call-outs of undergraduate-assigned philosophers; from hammer-to-the-head aphorisms that 'life gets better' to lazily constructed mini-chapters that bounce around from scene to scene (and seem to persist through six or seven extraneous codas), the understated tragedy and touching humanity that made How to Stop Time something incredibly special are incredibly missing.

Furthermore, I don't think Haig has a particular knack for writing deep and authentic female characters, which is problematic in a story where the two main leads are both women of different ages and backgrounds – even if one appears most often as a figment of the other's death-bed memory or imagination.

By no means am I giving up on reading the future works of Matt Haig, but I really hope he lets up on the glacial and the saccharine, lest he become a one-genre production line who keeps writing the same basic book wrapped in different covers and suffering from ever-dwindling sophistication. He's already proven that he can do it and do it well, so I remain optimistic that he can get back to the good stuff. He's gone through too much and has far too much to offer to let it die on the vine.
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LibraryThing member jillrhudy
Thanks to Penguin Random House for sending me a free eARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Matt Haig envisions a fantasy world in which his main character, Nora Seed, attempts suicide but ends up in library instead of the afterlife, and the library turns out to be the Anylife. Any
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book Nora takes from the library's shelves will take her to an alternative life that she could have led, if she had made different choices. The Midnight Library is presided over by Nora's old school librarian, Mrs. Elm. Unlike a real librarian, Mrs. Elm is cute, with twinkling eyes. Librarians' eyes flash in sardonic amusement, they widen in amazement, they half-close with exhaustion, and they narrow with suspicion, but we are not, on the whole, a twinkly-eyed bunch.

"The Midnight Library" suffers from a bad case of Bookclubitis, in which it is not necessary to plot, pace, and populate with compelling characters a good novel, it is only necessary to gush enough "moving" and "heartfelt" prose over approximately 200-250 pages to make sentimental readers believe that they must be reading a good novel.

In keeping with this pernicious tendency, the novel is at least twice as long as it needs to be for Nora to choose a few lives that she regrets not having chosen, to run through a few others, then to wrap it all up with the most predictable of all possible endings and a few revelations about what wisdom she has gleaned while time traveling or life jumping or whatever. If the rest of the book were rendered as well as the first few alternative lives, "The Midnight Library" have been a good fantasy. Unfortunately, Haig pads his narrative with a few hundred extra lives for Nora, along with the requisite pages and pages of introspective schmaltz.

I became extremely irritated with Nora and wished she would either throw in the towel or pick a life already. When she landed in the final chapter exactly where I predicted in Chapter Two, I could not stand Nora. After a few more pages of Nora's therapeutic navel-gazing, I was relieved to have finally reached the end.

I've seen this novel compared to Mitch Albom, and this is an accurate comparison. "The Midnight Library" is a thoroughgoing Albomination, The Last Librarian You'll Meet in Purgatory. Haig buries a very promising fantasy premise in more treacle and tripe than Wan Shi Tong's library is buried in sand in "Avatar: The Last Airbender."
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LibraryThing member AlisonY
Matt Haig has written a lot of children's books as well as adult fiction, which felt entirely obvious when I was reading this book. He just swapped out a fairy godmother for an old high school librarian, a monster for a bit of a vile ex boyfriend and a runaway child for a suicidal adult, but
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basically the formula was pretty much the same as your average kids' book.

I'm entirely the wrong reader for this type of book. It just felt a bit silly the whole way through. Girl's life spirals out of control so she tries to leave this earthly world but ends up instead in some kind of literary purgatory in a library where she can select different books which propel her into multiple versions of lives she could have led. Now Haig might have left the fairytale world behind in his children's books, but his imagination was every bit as active as our protagonist tried out life as an Olympic swimmer, a rock star, a yoga teacher, an animal charity worker, a teacher of philosophy at Cambridge.... The list went on. And on. And yes... silly is the word I can't escape.

The best thing this book had going for it was the fact that there was a lot of half filled pages so it went past pretty quickly. I'm being a little cruel, as the writing wasn't awful and it was OK to read, but no - not for me.

2.5 stars - not my vibe I'm afraid.
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LibraryThing member grandpahobo
This is a nice, light fable. There are no surprises or twists, just a very predictable story that would make a good Hallmark movie.
LibraryThing member KatKealy
VERY predictable, but an entertaining read.
LibraryThing member Tatoosh
The Midnight Library is a wildly-popular best seller, but not an I can’t put it down read.

Nora Seed had nothing to live for and decided to suicide. Her list of disappointments is lengthy, but the death of her cat, Voltaire, is the final blow. Volts was the only thing, human or animal, that gave a
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damn about Nora, and she no longer wishes to continue her dreary life. But like everything else in Nora’s life, suicide didn’t work out as she planned. It’s hard to know what she expected, but winding up in a mysterious, seemingly infinite library was not it. Nor was the presence of Mrs. Elm, her school librarian, during her adolescence. But the library offers Nora the chance to erase regrets and try out alternative lives. If she finds one that satisfies in every respect, she can inhabit it. Otherwise, her wish to die will be honored.

The premise is intriguing, but like most acclaimed books (e.g., Dark Matter by Crouch) and films (e.g., Groundhog Day) in the multiple lives genre, The Midnight Library becomes tedious after a while. We know the protagonist’s situation will not be resolved until hundreds of pages later at the end of the book, so the author must develop compelling subplots to keep our attention. Most fail, as does Haig. The story devolves into a series of vignettes, much like a flash fiction collection. A few are mildly interesting, but readers return to the library and enter yet another life after a short time.

The format is the problem, not Haig’s skillful writing. On average, the vignettes are somewhat monotonous. I kept at it 20-40 pages a day because Haig’s philosophical musings are interesting, I liked Nora, and I wanted a joyful ending for her.

I’m happy to have read it but glad that I’m done with it.
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LibraryThing member KatyBee
The premise of this novel is good (in a It's a Wonderful Life kind of way) but the writing isn't amazing. A young woman named Nora is in the throes of a serious depression. Her life seems like a series of disappointments, bad decisions, and lost connections with other people. When she takes too
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many pills, instead of dying, she lands in a weird liminal limbo called the Midnight Library. It is filled with an infinite collection of green books of 'multiverse' possible lives that she could have lived and a sad book of every regret she'd ever had. A kindly librarian, Mrs. Elm, helps explain the way the Library works and dispenses life advice. Nora is able to delve into different books to see what would have happened if she had taken different paths or made alternate choices.
There's a lot of platitudes (Nora likes and reads philosophy), odd factoids (she's a nerd), both bad and good relationship choices, some nice scenes with pets and kids, and some very unlikely possible lives. Rock star, glacier researcher, Olympic swimmer, etc. The boring lives are not explored as much. The ending to this speculative story is not surprising. I know this is a very popular book but I was wishing for more depth. It was like hoping for a life-affirming apple pie but eating a self-help Twinkie.
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LibraryThing member purple_pisces22
Is there anyone out there who doesn’t have regrets of some type? No matter how big or how small, I bet we all have some thing. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to see what would happen if we had chosen another way? Or would it be? We will never know. And that is the basis of this book. I totally
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loved this book. This one really hit home with me.
Nora Seed is our main sad, depressed, down and out character. After losing her cat, her job, and her whole positive outlook on life, she decides suicide is her best option. This is when you may start feeling vibes of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, but Nora’s experience is so much more. I find it hard to really explain in a review without giving away too much or speaking of the things in my own life that I regret because there is one major decision in my life that I had to make many years ago that I still, to this day, find myself questioning.
If I could go back and make a different decision that day, would I? It’s hard to say because how would that affect the people in my life today? I think that is a big question in this book. We all know every action has a reaction and unfortunately, it’s impossible to know every outcome. So we all make the best choices that we can and hope that it’s the best for everyone.
I have many of Matt Haig’s books marked “to read”, but this is my first book written by him. I think I chose a good one and I look forward to more of his work. I feel he wrote this in a way that most people can relate to without overdoing or glorifying suicide and depression.
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LibraryThing member ftbooklover
Nora's life seems out of control. She's situationally depressed and has just lost both of her jobs. Her parents are both dead, her brother won't speak to her, her best and only friend lives far away and seems to have ghosted her, and her cat, Volt, has just been found dead, so Nora decides that she
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doesn't want to live anymore. Instead of waking up in the hospital after she overdoses on antidepressants, Nora finds herself in someplace called The Midnight Library, and the former librarian from her school is the librarian there. She tells Nora that she can pick any book off of the shelf and live the life in that book that is based on decisions she regretted in the past. Nora doesn't believe it, but when she pulls one of the books, she finds herself in a time from the past.

The Midnight Library is an exploration of decisions, regrets, and the lives we make for ourselves. The character of Nora represents the "every man" in all of us. As the story progresses, Nora learns about herself and others until she makes an informed decision about her life. Overall, this is a good story with a very strong theme that comes across as a little preachy, but ultimately makes me think about my own life and choices.
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LibraryThing member sleahey
Another in the spate of recent books about choices, pivotal moments in our lives, and the possibilities of do-overs. Nora succumbs to her sense of utter despair and commits suicide. But wait--she finds herself in the midnight library where there is an infinite number of books telling her life story
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as it turns out based on the infinite number of choices she has made in her life. Her childhood librarian guides her, telling her she may choose a book telling the story of any time in her life when she made a different decision, and she will find herself in the present that has happened as a result. Nora finds her way through many books, when her new decisions yielded unintended consequences and surprising versions of herself. This novel moves along quickly as the author and main character play with different life possibilities, and it conveys a thought-provoking and affirming message.
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LibraryThing member Paul_S
The idea of exploring multiple possible branches of someone's life has been done many times but this one is done very well. Feels clinically designed to get an emotional response. It's like an optical illusion, you know how it's done and yet it still works. Trite moralism makes it obvious where the
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book is going about 2 chapters in but the journey there was enjoyable. Film version inevitable.
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LibraryThing member NannyOgg13
This was fun and uplifting, though predictable. In a worse mood I might have rolled my eyes at the ending (just a little), but in all I enjoyed it.
LibraryThing member AdonisGuilfoyle
*sigh* Hype 1 - 0 Book. The Sunday Times must have a lot of depressed readers with 'live laugh love' posters on their walls if this is a bestseller. The plot - a mishmash of The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue and 90s TV shows like Quantum Leap and Sliders - is left floundering in a quagmire of cod
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philosophical metaphors and cliched dialogue like 'All you need to do is find a way to keep moving forward. One square after another. And you can get to the other side and unlock all kinds of power' and 'She could plant a forest inside herself' (what?)

Nora Seed is a former child athlete, musician turned teacher and singleton after jilting her fiancé. She gets fired from her job in a music shop, finds her cat dead in the street and loses her one piano student after going on a bender and missing a lesson. So of course she decides that the only way is out. But wait! What if, after taking an overdose, Nora was to wake up in a magical, mystical library with never-ending shelves holding books of the same colour which is staffed by her former school librarian, whose only mission is to persuade Nora to 'choose life!' by showing her what she could have won - sorry, done - with her sad excuse for an existence? Great idea, less than enthralling delivery. The pretentious motivational soundbites and exposition had me falling asleep. Nora tries 'alternate lives' where she marries her fiancé, takes swimming to Olympic standard, finds stardom with her brother's band, travels to the Arctic as a glaciologist and encounters a polar bear, finds plodding happiness in suburbia - but like Goldilocks, none of the other Noras are 'just right'. Of course, she just has to accept herself for who she is and live love laugh to be happy, and then the midnight library crumbles away and everything turns out right in the end. Vomit.

Listen, I'm sure this book was helpful to many people going through dark times, especially during lockdown, but the leaden delivery and potted philosophy was verging on self-parody and too ridiculous to take seriously at times. And killing the cat twice was just plain unnecessary.
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LibraryThing member browner56
Nora Seed’s life is not proceeding at all as planned. Despite showing great early potential as an athlete and a musician, she has chronically underachieved and, by her mid-thirties, she has lost or alienated most of the people closest to her in the process. On top of that, she has lost her menial
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sales job and her cat just died. In her depressed state, Nora decides to end it all. Instead of dying, though, she finds herself transported to the mystical Midnight Library, a repository of books telling the stories of all the alternative lives she could have led under different circumstances. Assisted by the librarian, Nora explores myriad outcomes to her frustrating existence—including being an Olympic champion swimmer, a world-famous rock star, a climate change scientist, a winemaker, and a happily married mother—and erases all the regrets she accumulated in her “root” life. The question is whether she will find the alternative path that makes her truly happy before time runs out and the Midnight Library disappears forever.

There are many reasons why I did not enjoy reading The Midnight Library. Foremost, I found the story to be highly contrived and even somewhat unoriginal, mixing as it does elements of many other fictional treatments of the “alternative lives” theme (e.g., It’s a Wonderful Life, Dark Matter, Sliding Doors, Life After Life, and even Quantum Leap). Also, the author’s writing, which relies on repetitive references to quantum physics theory and western philosophy, is annoyingly pompous to the point of distraction. Further, the main character herself is unlikeable and not someone that I found myself rooting for during her journey in the “multiverse”. In fact, Nora’s progression through her various alternate lives grew quite stale, relying on the tired plot device of having present-day Nora drop into some other version of herself and having to figure out all the details on the fly. So, despite its good intentions—and the mental state of someone contemplating suicide is certainly a serious topic—this book misses the mark. There may well be other states of the universe in which the author addresses this subject in a compelling way, but this was not the one.
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LibraryThing member technodiabla
A book club selection (not mine). The premise of this book is very interesting, though not original, and good for discussion at a book club---"What are your regrets?" It's about a woman whose life is in shambles and so she attempts suicide. She finds herself in a purgatory-like place (a Library)
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where she can choose to try out different lives and decisions she might have lived in parallel universes.

But the book is terribly written. Poorly researched, awful dialogue, and full of tired tropes and contrived plot devices. Why, why did she try to explain the situation using quantum physics? Just let it be. Anyway I could not get past the million times my analytical brain, said "but, wait, that won't work because...." and "But why would that happen? It seems like_____ she would do plan in this case."

It felt rushed and there was no depth at all-- 288 pages to explain and explore parallel universes/lives? At least I didn't waste more than a few days on this book.
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LibraryThing member chasidar
I know everyone loved this book but it just didn't do it for me. Yes, it's well written and it's a quick read but I found the premise annoying. Maybe I'm too cynical.
LibraryThing member Lemeritus
For anyone intrigued by the infinite multiverses between quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity...
For anyone who owns A Book of Regrets...
The book is wonderful.
LibraryThing member janismack
Fantasy story of a young depressed woman that decides she doesn’t want to live anymore. She tries to commit suicide but land in the midnight library. This library hold the books of regret and you can relive your life by reliving your regrets and seeing what happens when you make different
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choices.. Great storytelleng and life lessons abound in this short novel.
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LibraryThing member AAAO
Includes profanity. We don’t know why or care that she has not learned the lessons she is about to learn in the first place. Very predictable. Didn’t add to parallel universe/time-travel genre.
LibraryThing member bookczuk
Found myself returning to think about this one after finishing it. Pandemic read.
LibraryThing member eesti23
A great story about past regrets, new chances, and how life might be more worth living than your originally thought. I loved this story, the message behind it, and the concept overall.
LibraryThing member brianinbuffalo
I won’t bury the lead. “The Midnight Library” is among a half-dozen of the most enjoyable, uplifting and thought-provoking books I’ve read within the past few years. It’s filled with so many insightful passages that made me stop and ruminate about the choices we make – and how we
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approach life. Some reviews have suggested that Haig should have provided more detail in each of Nora’s twist-filled lives. I disagree. One of the things I loved about “The Midnight Library” was its brisk pacing that provided just enough insight into each adventure without going overboard. In summary, I loved this book and will likely read it again at some point (something I almost never do). One of my many takeaways from this memorable tome: “The only way to learn is to live.”
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LibraryThing member infjsarah
Good read with an "It's a wonderful life" vibe and using a library as the idea of multiple life possibilities was always going to rock my boat :)


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Physical description

304 p.; 8.5 inches


0525559477 / 9780525559474
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