Friday, February 18, 2022

Review: The Midnight Library

From The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig

Open quote ‘Between life and death there is a library,’ she said. ‘And within that library, the shelves go on for ever. 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?’ " Midnight Library

That excerpt tells pretty much the whole story. Woman attempts suicide. Between life and death, she's given the chance to see all the lives she might have lived. Does she find the ideal life for her? Does she rekindle her will to live? She does learn an important life lesson. It's a straightforward story, not very deep.

Grade: B-

First, let me state a personal connection I have to this story. "Midnight Library" is set in Bedford, England. Long ago, I made many business trips to Bedford. I am familiar with some of the places referenced in the novel: the brick works, downtown shops, Shakespeare Road, and the River Great Ouse. You could swap Bedford with any other city and not impact the story, but the Bedford setting did strike a personal chord for me.

The story itself is about suicide. A 35-year-old woman attempts suicide. Magic happens between life and death. In fact, almost the whole novel happens. In a series of short chapters, she lives alternative lives, lives she might have lived if only she had made different decisions earlier in her unhappy life. Some of the lives (Olympic swimmer, vineyard owner, rock star, Arctic glaciologist) sounded attractive to her, until they weren't. Each time she decided one of these alternate lives was not for her, she found herself right back in the Midnight Library, able to choose another volume from the shelves and explore yet another version of her life. The rules of the game are that if she ever finds just the right life, one she would like to remain in forever, she'd leave the Midnight Library behind forever and live out her alternate life in happiness. On the other hand, if she ever tired of taking books off the shelves of the Midnight Library, she could despair and end it all, as she had tried to do in her root life.

As there is kind of a sci-fi premise to "The Midnight Library," there is talk of the many worlds hypothesis to explain quantum mechanics. Every decision we make branches our universe, which goes on branching until there are an infinite number of parallel universes where all things happen in one or another. The infinity of volumes on the shelves of the Midnight Library is how that concept is represented in the novel to explain its inner workings.

So, does she find her ideal life? Does she rekindle her will to live? She does learn an important life lesson. There's a moral to the story. You'll have to read it to find out why and how she leaves the Midnight Library.

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