Monday, July 19, 2021

Book review: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig


I scrolled through the completed draft of this book review and pondered for a second if the length of the review was too short. And then I realized that I'm not reviewing multiple books in a series like how I've been doing the past few times! 😆 So, for a change, we are going with short and sweet for today's book review!

Before I get cracking on my review, let me tell you what I love most about my kindle. Yes, as a previously self-confessed hardcover and paperback book nut, I sheepishly confess that I LOVE my kindle. Now that I've got that out of the way, did you know you can get goodreads and kindle to sync? This makes it easy to review books (both on Amazon and goodreads), right from your kindle. When you link your kindle app to goodreads, it will automatically update your reading progress and your rating/review once you are done reading. I have had an account with goodreads for many years which I used sporadically to discover new books. But I never used it for anything more than that. Recently, I made time to update my profile and many of my reads with ratings and reviews. I so wish I had done this from the time I first set up my account! (one small personal regret that I'm trying to undo!). Anyway, I've added a bunch of books to my 'want to read' list and I intend to cross them off my list slowly and steadily. It is July and I'm more than halfway through my reading challenge for 2021 so I'm optimistic about meeting my target 😊

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig is a novel I added to my list because I had been seeing glowing recommendations for it popping up all over social media and the blurb caught my attention. 

Matt Haig is an award-winning British author of both fiction and non-fiction books for children and adults. He is a champion for mental health with some of his work taking inspiration from the mental breakdown he suffered from when he was 24 years old.

Matt Haig's work of non-fiction, 'Reasons to Stay Alive', was a number one Sunday Times bestseller and remained in the UK top 10 for nearly a year. His bestselling children's novel, Father Christmas and Me, is currently being adapted for celluloid. In 2020, he released his novel The Midnight Library which went on to win the Goodreads Best Fiction Award for that year and was shortlisted for the 2021 British Book Awards "Fiction book of the year". The Midnight Library was adapted and broadcast for radio in December 2020.

***Plot***
Nora Seed could have been many things in life. Young, brilliant and gifted, she had all the ingredients to create the recipe for success. Being an exceptional swimmer, she could have made it to the Olympics. With a natural flair for singing and songwriting, she could have been a successful musician. With a brilliant mind to her credit and the heart to be an eco warrior, she could have studied glaciers in the Arctic and contributed to the fight against global warming. She could have expanded her horizons and travelled to Australia with her best friend to conduct whale watching tours at Byron Bay. She also could have enjoyed a quieter albeit comfortable life by marrying her boyfriend and running a pub in the picturesque English countryside. Yet Nora did none of those things.

At the age 35, her life is a cacophony of nonsense. She has been bogged down by expectations and regret at every stage of her life. Single, jobless, cash strapped, ghosted by her only living family member and haunted by a failed romantic relationship, she is in a downward spiral. The unexpected death of her beloved pet brings her to the end of life’s tether. It is then that Nora decides that she does not want to live anymore.

But when Nora takes a drastic step that leaves her hanging between life and death (a purgatory of sorts), she enters the transcendental Midnight Library. Located beyond the edge of the Universe, this library has an infinite number of books that act as portals to ALL the lives Nora could be living. The library acts as a metaphor for limitless possibilities. There are lives where Nora would make different choices from her original aka 'root life' with those choices leading to different outcomes and consequently, whole new life stories. 

While in the Midnight Library, Nora goes on an epic journey in self-discovery by living hundreds of lives and becoming hundreds of different versions of herself. Mrs. Elm, the kindly librarian from Nora's school days, happens to be the librarian at the Midnight Library and she acts as a guide for Nora to choose a path to commit without the crippling regrets. But the revelation that stuns Nora and changes her perception of life is how even the most seemingly 'ideal' lives come with their own set of challenges, imperfections and disappointments. 

Nora must do some soul searching to decide what fulfilment means for her and what makes life worth living in the first place.

My thoughts...
To me, a good book is one which I find difficult to put down and this was one of those books. I finished it in two days straight and it was definitely worth my time! 

Right from the first chapter, the author draws the reader into the dysfunctional world of the main protagonist, Nora Seed. Even with a weighty and grim subject at the crux of the novel, the author weaves an intriguing concept around it that is handled with empathy, wisdom and even some humor to make the story utterly engaging. 

I love how the prologue ended in a shocker that instantly captured my attention. I enjoyed the author's style of writing - casual yet so astute and profound.  There are several quotes and passages in the book that I re-read because I found them so impactful. I must say, the analogies and metaphors are bang on!

“The paradox of volcanoes was that they were symbols of destruction but also life. Once the lava slows and cools, it solidifies and then breaks down over time to become soil – rich, fertile soil. She wasn't a black hole, she decided. 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. She could plant a forest inside herself”. 
- The Midnight Library

The foundation of the novel is based on the perplexing multiverse theory but the focus is more on the actions, reflections and evolution of Nora as she navigates alternate universes. The changing perceptions that accompany the multitude of storylines provides ample opportunities for insightful philosophical exploration and personal introspection. Fair warning - if you were expecting a cerebral lesson in quantum mechanics then you will be disappointed!

Mental health is a subject that has gained traction in recent times and deservingly so. With more and more influential personalities going public about depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation, the stigma surrounding mental health seems to be gradually easing. The ongoing global pandemic has resulted in extraordinary circumstances including, but not limited to social isolation, anxiety, illness, financial insecurity and unbearable losses which, in one way or another, have taken an added toll on people's mental health across the world. 

The novel starts off with the triggering topics of depression and suicide. But as the story progresses, the subject is tackled with such sensitivity that I think that it is a must-read for anyone plagued by "what-if" moments in their life. To err is human. We all know that, don't we? But how phenomenal would it be if life offered us a magical reset button with the power to erase mistakes, eliminate regret and essentially give us a do-over? It is a tempting fantasy that could ensnare anybody irrespective of how good their life is. But then again, as the novel points out, we have to understand that choices don't mean the same thing as outcomes

This imaginative work of fiction serves as a timely reminder to find the purpose, love and kindness in each day even when circumstances seem unbearably bleak. It is uplifting in its faith that no matter what life throws at you, there is always the potential to bounce back. The novel also conveys the message that when feeling trapped in one life, it is easy to imagine that sadness or failure is a byproduct of living a certain way rather than simply 'living'. That there is no way of living that can immunize us against the big scary emotions that are part and parcel of this emotional roller coaster called life. As human beings, we let ourselves get trapped by age, peer pressure, familial expectations, gender stereotyping, herd mentality and timelines among many other things. We also tend to view ourselves through the lens of other people and to wish for alternate kaleidoscopic versions of ourselves that we think we ought to be. And the worst is when we compare ourselves to other people even when we have heard the adage - "comparison is the thief of joy" a thousand times over. As a result of all these factors, regret is an unnecessary burden that many of us carry with us....sometimes all the way till the grave. 

The Midnight Library has the potential to compel the reader to think about their own life path, their choices and the big or small regrets weighing them down. The novel masterfully drives home the message that the key to a person's own fulfillment, lies within themselves. During these troubled and troubling times, this novel not only comes across as relevant but is also inspiring, thought-provoking and emotionally cathartic. Reading this novel can feel like therapy without a couch! 

For me, the negatives in the novel were only a few. Let's start with the small cast of supporting characters, most of whom were underdeveloped and forgettable. Second, after getting acquainted with the character of Nora Seed and learning about her background, personality traits and strengths, her fall from grace struck me as a bit unrealistic. Call her morose and listless but I certainly wouldn't find it difficult to be friends with a person like her in real life! Lastly, some parts of the novel were repetitive and a few of the storylines were predictable (although I did quite like how the author chose to conclude the story). Everything said, the genuinely interesting premise, likeable main character and moving central themes were more than enough to overshadow the cons. 

I'm glad I gave in to the hype and read this novel. The Midnight Library is whimsical, beautifully nuanced and life-affirming. 


Highly recommended!


My rating for this book is



 
Cheers,
Megha

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