Nora is done. She has disappointed almost everyone she knows and feels she is done trying not to. She gave up swimming and disappointed her dad. She gave up the band and disappointed her brother. She gave up her relationship and disappointed her fiancee, Dan. And now, she’s even disappointed her cat. She just cannot do anything right. It’s just time to give up, period. But when it comes that time, she discovers a place in-between and it may be that there is space for second (and more) chances.
This book is based on a slightly outrageous, but fascinating premise of a theorem of quantum physics which states that we may be living more than one life simultaneously. That is, even very tiny choices can lead us toward very divergent paths and have very different consequences for our lives. And what if each of these are branches from a root life that are going on simultaneously? And what if, at some point, we have the choice to go back and choose one of these alternative paths? Sort of an “undo” of our lives? It’s a pretty wild concept, no?
This narrative begins well. We feel a deep empathy for Nora and her experience of depression, loneliness, and hopelessness, and understand her decision to escape. The “midnight library” is an elaborate metaphor and creates a gorgeous image that helps us to understand this concept of simultaneous lives in a way that is accessible to those of us who may not be able to comprehend very abstract concepts of quantum physics.
Unfortunately, I feel as though the author struggled to know where to drive the storyline once the underlying premise was established. There is a clear message here, but it is so clear that it makes the outcome transparent way too early on. Knowing this made it feel like too much work to get there. And with an ending so predictable, it was also disappointingly melodramatic and “picture perfect.”
What I did appreciate is that the author, Matt Haig, is not afraid to discuss the oft-hushed topics of anxiety, depression and suicidality through fiction. We know he has first-hand knowledge of these topics, as he has authored a memoir (reviewed in this blog in 2019) called Reasons to Stay Alive, in which he so generously shares his own struggles with these difficult conditions. In giving voice to mental health issues, creating characters who live with them, it helps to widen the scope of empathy for the millions of folks who struggle with these disorders, both visibly and invisibly.
So while there is value to this book, in the clever premise and vital message, it is disappointingly predictable.
There is another book that presents this theory and in a more subtle way: The Book of Two Ways, by Jodi Picoult. See my review from May 29, 2021