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Book Review: “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig

The Midnight LibraryThe Midnight Library by Matt Haig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I needed this book.

I’m not going to bother writing a detailed plot synopsis, or analysing the text itself, because that’s not how I experienced this book. Instead, let me paint a picture of my experience with this book.

I went into this book super depressed, feeling lonely and pretty darn hopeless.

I came out of it shedding tears of gratitude, comforted by the familiar, but lately foreign, sensation of inner peace and connectedness.

Through his narration, Haig does an incredible job of building deep compassion in the reader for the tormented protagonist, Nora Seed. Nora’s experience is your experience; the reader shares her highs and her lows.

Nora is stuck. At the age of 35, she finds herself living alone, in a dead-end job in a dead-end town and with no close friends or family for company. She feels isolated and stuck.

They say that bad things come in threes. As a physicist, I refute that statistic outright as an old wives’ tale, but it does seem to be one of those sayings that proves anecdotally true. For Nora, it feels as though her whole life comes tumbling down all at once like a house of cards: in the space of 24 hours, her cat dies, her brother seemingly disowns her, she loses her job and she is dropped by her one piano student, the only activity in her life that gave her some semblance of fulfilment. It all gets too much for her and she can’t see a way forward in her life. In a moment of desperation, she decides to end her life.

She wakes up to find that, frustratingly, she still exists. She had hoped that taking her life would cure her of existence, a belief that I once held too, however untrue. She discovers that she is in a limbo space of sorts – The Midnight Library. In the library, each book offers Nora the chance to enter an alternate life that she could have lived if she had made different decisions in her “root” life. Reluctantly she starts searching for the “perfect” life.

To cut to the chase, since I’m not too interested in writing a synopsis here, after exploring an endless number of alternate lives, Nora realised that everything she had in her root life was already enough. She didn’t need an infinity of lives, because she already possessed within herself the ability to touch an infinite number of other lives. What we all crave most deeply is that connection of heart we experience with other people when we touch one another’s lives. It is so simple, yet so elusive in today’s world; even more so in the midst of a global pandemic.

This book hit very close to home as I recently lost a dear friend to suicide. As I was preparing to share a tribute at the celebration of his life after his passing, I asked myself what I could possibly say to describe such a remarkable man. In the end, I realised that what I appreciated most deeply about him was not the status he attained, nor the money he earned, nor the property he accumulated; in the end, I could only describe his life like this: “Many small acts of kindness over time, with a big and loving heart”.

The resounding message of this book is that life is about connection. No amount of wealth, status or property can fill the connection-shaped hole that our culture bores into us. We can lose so much of our mind’s time to distraction and regret: distracted by comparing our inner world to others’ external world – which social media does little to remedy – and regretting the path that we’ve taken in life without knowing how many lives we’ve touched along the way.

It’s no wonder that so many of us struggle with depression, anxiety and feelings of loneliness and despair. We aren’t made for this world, to be consumers or virtual avatars; we were made for something much greater. In the words of a great man, we were made to be “in the world, but not of the world”.

“But I could have told you, [Nora]
This world was never meant for one
As beautiful as you”
~ “Vincent” by Don McLean

You’re not crazy; it’s just that this world calls crazy what it cannot understand.

Mr Haig, you’ve done it again – I sincerely thank you for having the courage to write with such honesty and compassion.

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