"'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)
Similar in this library
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.
The book follows Nora, a woman in her 30s having a terrible day in the midst of what she sees as a terrible life:
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.
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.
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
"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."
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For anyone who owns A Book of Regrets...
The book is wonderful.