Sometimes it seems fortuitous that you pick up a book (The Midnight Library in this case) at the exact moment it can really help you. A few weeks ago I was having a bad Corona day (you know the ones, where you feel like the black fog of this nightmare will never end and you’ll be trapped in a dystopian world forever…) so I was desperate for a few hours of escapism. I started The Midnight Library and honestly had a huge personal paradigm shift while reading.
Matt Haig has been very open about his mental health, in interviews and on his social media platforms he has revealed that he has attempted suicide in the past. He has written two non-fiction books about mental health – Reasons to Stay Alive and Notes on a Nervous Planet and a brilliant children’s book, The Truth Pixie that also talks about mental health in a way children can understand. In The Midnight Library, he explores this highly personal theme in novel form.
Opening sentence: Nineteen years before she decided to die, Nora Seed sat in the warmth of the small library at Hazeldene School in the town of Bedford.
Mrs Elm and The Midnight Library
We meet lead character Nora Seed at a pivotal moment in her life; a series of events climax in her taking an overdose. She just does not see the point in living anymore. This is when she finds herself in The Midnight Library, with librarian Mrs Elm:
‘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.
Mrs Elm gives Nora The Book of Regrets where all of Nora’s are listed. Nora then gets the opportunity to live a different version of her life and amend a decision she regretted making. If she loves the life enough, she can stay there.
In her ‘root life’ (as her main one is referred to), Nora studied philosophy, taught piano lessons, worked in a music shop and nearly had careers as a both a rock star and an Olympic swimmer. Nearly being the key word here – how much can change when we just make one tiny decision differently?
It is a library of possibility. And death is the opposite of possibility.
Elements from Nora’s many lives are cleverly interwoven throughout and although we go with her through several lives, with the same people cropping up, it all feels fresh and new. She has to learn who she is in each life and assess how the decisions she makes in each will have an impact.
The power of thought – and quantum physics
As much as there is the pure imagination of Nora’s many lives, Matt Haig ties it in with a deliciously intriguing multi-world string theory physics idea (fear not, non-physics fans, my main knowledge of the topic comes from Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory, so you don’t need to know about it – Matt Haig explains perfectly). This adds another dimension to the story too:
The many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics suggests there are an infinite number of divergent parallel universes.
Any book that can combine a wonderful, engaging story with concepts that help you positively shift the way you are thinking about things while also making your heart swell is a truly special find indeed. Such a beautiful, thought-provoking and hopeful book – read it!