Book of the Month: Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library
Author: Nick Kelson-Packer Weber State University
Our book of the month recommendation is Matt Haig’s novel The Midnight Library. Imagine slipping into a parallel world where instead of getting that chocolate sundae at your local ice cream parlor, you instead opted for a parfait somewhere else. This choice then led you to meet someone new, someone who invites you to join them in exotic, overseas adventures. That is the premise of Matt Haig’s new book, The Midnight Library. Matt Haig is a renowned, best selling author who has written several books for a wide audience of both children and adults.
The protagonist of this novel, Nora, is a depressed adult who is going through some difficult times. Her cat dies, her job fires her, her brother refuses to talk to her, and worst of all, she meets an old acquaintance who talks her ear off about how successful she thought Nora would be. In reality, Nora is just like everyone else – barely hanging on in a world that refuses to do her any favors. Through pure circumstance, she ends up at the Midnight Library, where she gets the chance to live through several of her own lives, based on regrets that she had in her previous one. Eventually she learns what is most important to her and obtains the happiness she has been craving for her entire life.
Thematically there is a lot going on here. In each of her lives, Nora is depressed, showing that just simply making the right choice does not mean that someone’s depression will go away. It is a disease you cannot get rid of simply by wanting it gone. Even taking the proper steps to learn how to manage it does not always work, which is cleverly shown through Nora’s multiple lives. She learns that everyone, everywhere has their own problems in life, and that changing her lot in life does not immediately lead to contentedness with herself. To quote the Midnight Library’s librarian, “You don’t have to understand life. You just have to live it.” (Haig 2020, 218) Although Nora’s answer to her depression is not for everyone, it is both commendable and well-written.
Small choices can lead to bigger things (the butterfly effect) is another major topic of the book. Several small actions of hers lead to consequences she could not even begin to imagine. When she stuck to her swimming schedule, she became an Olympic athlete. When she stayed in her band, she ended up becoming famous and internationally acclaimed. She even went on a vacation to the arctic. However, the novel poorly portrays this theme – if all it took was a little hard work, everyone would be successful at some point. And yet, a good amount of her lives are successful solely because of said hard work. In a book that tries to portray how several different realities for people are possible, its focus on fame, riches, and life-threatening adventures felt out of touch, simply because effort and hard work are not enough to obtain all your desires. Of course, portraying luck as an effective narrative is difficult at best – and her admission into the Midnight Library might have used up all her luck – but the unreal expectations this novel sets is disappointing, considering how well it handled its other themes.
Overall, The Midnight Library is a work that engages in several contemporary topics such as depression, wealth, hard work, male privilege, and more. Any adult reader can pick this novel up and get something different out of it. The combination of topics and themes in this book will make some struggle through it, but it will be a good struggle. One that will make you want to cheer Nora on, because everybody wants the map to happiness.
Haig, Matt. 2020. The Midnight Library. New York: Viking.
Nick Kelson-Packer is a grad student at Weber State University. Currently he is studying for a master’s in English.