REVIEW: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
‘Everyone’s got mental-health stuff.’
‘You know what I mean.’
As a person who has struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life, I felt a strong connection to Nora. For the first half of the book, she is slowly sinking into despair – she envies her dead cat, she thinks it would be easier to be a potted plant, she is estranged from her family and friends, she dreads conversations with strangers. She’s in a pretty negative state of mind:
She didn’t tell him that while coal and diamonds are both carbon, coal is too impure to be able, under whatever pressure, to become a diamond. According to science, you start off as coal and you end up as coal. Maybe that was the real-life lesson.
Nora decides she’s had enough of this life, and she ends up in The Midnight Library. Her old school librarian meets her there and explains that there are infinite lives she could have lived, based on every decision she ever made. The shelves of the library stretch forever, and each book contains an alternate life.
‘Erwin Schrödinger . . .’
‘He of the cat.’
‘Yes. The cat guy. He said that in quantum physics every alternative possibility happens simultaneously. All at once. In the same place.’
This novel is sort of a fictionalized version of Reasons to Stay Alive, the author’s memoir about depression. It combines philosophy, quantum physics, and hindsight to help Nora create the perfect life for herself. She gradually comes to realizations about life and regret. It may seem a bit contrived, because in real life, I think you can only understand some of these things when you come out the other side. Maybe that’s why the ending snuck up on me and had such an emotional impact on me.
The thing I love about Matt Haig’s books is that after I read them, I always feel a little bit better about being alive.