Friday, April 26, 2024

Review - The Midnight Library

The Midnight Library
by Matt Haig
Date: 2020
Publisher: Canongate Press
Reading level: A
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 304
Format: e-book
Source: Kobo

'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.

(synopsis from Goodreads)


I can't believe this is a bestseller. I can't believe it won the 2020 Goodreads Award for Best Fiction. Seriously... what am I missing here?

This is a mediocre book with a promising premise but a tremendously unsatisfying execution. The first 80% is unbearably slow, with our bland heroine, Nora, trying out different lives. Hints of something that could've been really interesting (the Hugo storyline) were brought up and then never revisited. The whole story wraps up in an unrealistic, saccharine bow in the last 10%, with an entire chapter slamming the reader over the head with an anti-suicide message. Is this a thinly disguised self-help book? If so, it's not very helpful. Nora's life completely sucks (family dead or estranged, no partner, no friends, no job, dead cat), so her actions at the beginning, unpleasant and misguided though they might be, make sense. The moral of the story is that you shouldn't kill yourself because it's only your perception of your life that's off. Unfortunately, the book contradicts itself by having things that are actually different in Nora's life after her attempt, so it's not just a matter of perception. Her brother is suddenly there for her. Her friend in Australia stops ghosting her. Sorry, but those aren't just a matter of perception, so the story's message ends up undermining itself.

The Hugo storyline is never spoken of again. (It could've been interesting.) And if you were hoping for a happily ever after on the romantic front, you're going to be disappointed. Rather than offering some satisfaction there, the author chooses to spend an entire chapter bludgeoning the reader with the "life is so wonderful" message. I'm sorry, but if you hint at a romantic relationship but never follow through, it's a crappy move. Realistic? Sure. But this is a story about a magical library that lets people relive their regrets and see if the path not taken is actually something to strive for... so I wasn't looking for realism.

Overall, I'm disappointed. The writing is okay (though rather plodding and juvenile at times), and the premise of the Midnight Library itself is really cool. But Haig doesn't do nearly as much with that premise as he could have, leaving us instead with a pedestrian half-story featuring a main character who's difficult to relate to (and therefore care about).

Seriously. I don't get the hype.

Plot: 2/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing & Editing: 3/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall Rating: 2.57 out of 5 ladybugs