Review: The Midnight Library
Millie Betts explores Matt Haig’s bestselling novel, The Midnight Library.
Every reader can name a selection of books that they would love to dive into head first, so I was instantly intrigued by the concept of The Midnight Library. Matt Haig’s novel puts a dark twist on this bookish dream: readers follow Nora’s time between life and death in a library, where opening a book transports her to an alternative life she might have lived, had she made different decisions.
I found the first fifty pages of the novel mildly disappointing, as Haig’s metaphors felt forced. The writing seemed philosophical just for the sake of it, and almost mimicked the tone of a self-help book. I do think, however, that this improved as the plot evolved; Haig introduces expertly placed motifs that give his metaphors depth and meaning. My favourite of these motifs was the appearance of the National Geographic magazine. I particularly liked the recurrent image of a black hole in Nora’s lives, which eventually changes to an image of a volcano as Nora realises that “she wasn’t a black hole, […] she was a volcano. And like a volcano she couldn’t run away from herself. She’d have to stay there and tend to that wasteland.” (page 286).
There is so much pressure on people to choose the “right” path, as we compare ourselves to those around us
Haig is an expert at letting the reader straight into the protagonist’s mind. Nora’s regrets are incredibly relatable, boiling down to something as simple as saying no to a coffee date with the right guy. These regrets are particularly pertinent to our world today, as there is so much pressure on people to choose the “right” path, as we compare ourselves to those around us. The Midnight Library illustrates, however, that no such “correct” path exists.
Some of us want to be lawyers, politicians, or scientists; we want to be successful in careers that have a big impact on society. Interestingly, Haig suggests that even the smallest details of our existence paint a much bigger picture; we end up impacting other people’s lives in ways we don’t even realise. In this sense, we can’t let our regrets stop us from appreciating the present.
Haig shares the importance of being kind to ourselves by following our dreams instead of focusing on others’. In an interview with Cambridge Independent, he states that due to “the internet and social media and comparison culture, we are surrounded by other people’s lives, if not our own versions of our lives, so there is always a reason to feel bad about yourself”.
Haig suggests that even the smallest details of our existence paint a much bigger picture; we end up impacting other people’s lives in ways we don’t even realise
Nonetheless, some argue that Haig glamorises depression and suicide. To them, the book’s overall message leans more towards “just be happy with what you already have”, which I agree with to some extent. Nora’s mental health struggles seem undermined by her ability to just “move on”. I do think, however, that there are deeper messages present throughout the novel, which don’t simultaneously diminish the realities of Nora’s depression.
Haig has publicly spoken about his struggles with depression and anxiety, and he claims that Nora’s story is “the first time I had the central character have an official diagnosis that was similar to mine”. If this is a story, then, that closely resembles his journey, I’m not sure that “glamorisation” is the right term to use. Despite this, I do understand that the end of the novel is slightly too perfect. Haig has shared that he still grapples with anxiety and panic attacks to this day. The Midnight Library, unfortunately, doesn’t flesh out the aftermath of Nora’s suicide attempt, and how (or even if) her coping mechanisms have changed.
So, while I really enjoyed this book and definitely recommend it, I must consider its flaws. Therefore, I have to deduct a star from my rating, giving The Midnight Library four out of five stars.