‘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?’
Matt Haig, The Midnight Library, Canongate Books.
It’s a brilliant concept. Nora, a thirty-something woman who feels she’s failing at life, decides to take drastic action and finds herself in The Midnight Library where every one of the infinite books represents a life she could be living if she had made different choices. All she has to do is step through the book portals to try on another version of her life.
I was instantly drawn into The Midnight Library, sharing Nora’s angst as she watched her life slowly unravel in the ‘conveyor belt of despair’ that is Bedford, and
I wandered into the Midnight Library every bit as wide-eyed, intrigued and confused as Nora.
Matt Haig weaves his modern day fairytale well, creating a dream-like world where everything seems almost normal and yet, completely abnormal. As we and Nora learn about the endless possibilities that lie within the library’s shelves, Haig manages to imbue the narrative with that uneasy feeling that frequently pervades even the nicest of dreams, as Nora hesitates to open a book filled with her life’s regrets.
I loved the Book of Regrets, such a clever concept, and I found myself mentally listing the contents of such a book for my own life.
It’s when, in her quest to find happiness, Nora begins to try on alternate lives that the spell begins to wobble a little for me. This woman who, a few hours ago, had been unemployed with no prospects whatsoever and at the depths of despair, suddenly finds enough self confidence to step into the sort of situations that would have most people throwing up in the toilets and looking for the nearest exit even if they had prepared in advance, unlike Nora who has arrived on the scene with all the skills, knowledge and experience of five minutes ago.
That aside, just as I’m beginning to find Nora’s parallel lives a tad predictable, Haig throws in a twist, introducing us to the notion of multiple ‘sliders’ and I look forward to finding myself in a whole new dimension within the novel.
Sadly, that dimension is never fully developed and a missed opportunity joins the pages of my imaginary Book of Regrets.
A hugely successful writer whose titles (How to Stop Time, The Humans) are very at home in the best seller lists, Matt Haig seems to specialise in tales that are ultimately uplifting and reaffirm the value and beauty of life; something we’re all ready to grasp with two hands as we emerge from the dark tunnel of despair wrought by the world’s reaction to the current pandemic. The Midnight Library provides a message of hope, woven into a fantasy tale whose concept is universally attractive.
After all, who wouldn’t, given the opportunity, like to take a peek at what might have been?