'The Midnight Library' book review: Booking a journey to the self
In a world between life and death, it is revealed that the grass is not always greener on the other side.
Thirty-five-year-old Nora Seed, a resident of Bedford, has a string of regrets in her life - she bade goodbye to a professional swimming career, walked out of a music band that promised success and backed out of a wedding with two days' notice.
At some point, she also wanted to be a glaciologist - a dream that she never followed. Nora is only able to think of herself in terms of all the things she hadn’t become - an Olympic swimmer, an Arctic researcher, someone’s wife, a mother or a rock star. She believes that her life's every move was a mistake, every decision a disaster, every day a retreat from whom she imagined she could be.
Further, a series of incidents leads Nora to believe that no one needs her, and that she is superfluous to the universe. She loses her job, her piano student stops taking lessons from her, her 84-year-old neighbour no longer needs her to fetch his medicines and her cat dies.
Moreover, her parents are no more, her brother barely communicates with her and things have even dried up between Nora and her former best friend. She feels that her life is a mundane cacophony of nonsense. Her social media has no new messages, comments, followers or friend requests, and everyone except her has worked out how to live. It is in this frame of mind that she decides to die.
Almost suddenly, she finds herself in a strange library filled with seemingly endless quantities of books. A collection of infinite lives and possibilities, the books in the library are all portals to the different lives she could have lived.
Here, she finds her school librarian, Mrs Elm, who makes her aware of the many possible existences ahead of her. With each book, Nora gets an opportunity to experience lives that could have been hers if she had made diverse choices. Mrs Elm warns her, however, that if she experiences dissatisfaction in any life, it will bring her back to the library where she must choose another book.
As she navigates through the numerous lives she could have lived, Nora gets a chance to reassess what had gone wrong and analyse in hindsight if her decisions were for the best. What startles her is that all the lives she had regretted not living, were not worth mourning for.
The process also makes her realise that success isn’t something one measures and that life isn’t a race one can win. She discovers that even a supposedly successful life comes with its own share of pitfalls and personal sacrifices.
In effect, it makes her see that no life is in a state of sheer happiness forever, and that sadness is an intrinsic part of the fabric of happiness. When death stares her in the face in one of her lives, she resolves not to die.
It is then that the library finally disappears, and she returns to her original life armed with a fresh perspective, added appreciation and hope for the future. Internationally bestselling author Matt Haig’s dazzling novel aptly reflects what a lot of young adults habitually experience in a confusing world full of choices, opportunities and despairs.
Sprinkled with several quotes by philosophers such as Plato, Voltaire, Confucius, Thoreau, Camus, Aristotle and Sartre, the book also consists of many existential beliefs, such as the fact that loneliness is simply a "fundamental part of being a human in an essentially meaningless universe" and that the more people are connected on social media, the lonelier society becomes. It is sure to resonate with anyone who has experienced disappointment and wants to improve their life.