The Midnight Library by Matt Haig The Midnight Library: A Novel eBook : Haig, Matt: Kindle Store

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   




Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

If you have ever wondered what it feels like to be depressed or to have a panic attack – read this book.  In it, Matt Haig shares his experience with depression and anxiety and invites you straight into his brain.  You sit there with him at the brink of suicide,  you hold your breath as he wrestles with his demons and you ache with his pain. He chronicles his years of experiencing depression and anxiety and actually comes to a sort of peace with it, ultimately, seeming to acknowledge that it has led him to feel things more deeply in both directions, whether toward pain or toward joy.

I think this is an important book to read.  While nothing can ever really give anyone a perfect picture of what it feels like to have depression – and I’m sure it feels different for each individual who experiences it – this does, I believe, give a vivid, repetitive, and detailed description.  There are analogies, lists, comparisons, images, and examples of ways in which the author’s life was impaired by his illness that go beyond what most expect from what we think of depression.  His was particularly severe.

And I think it’s important that we as members of our society, such as it is today, familiarize ourselves as much as possible with the symptoms of depression and anxiety because it is, sadly,  so prevalent.  We need to be aware of how severe it can be, how invisible it can be, and how crippling it can be.  We also must learn how to help someone who is suffering with it.  There are suggestions in this book, which are quite helpful.

On the negative side, I believe this book was not well edited.  I found t grammatically lazy, somewhat repetitive, and missing large chunks of the story.  How does Matt actually get better?  Just time?   When does he get married?  And where do the two kids come in?  What role do his parents play really in his recovery?  There is so much that is glossed over  How has he been able to write through the depression?  What does he write about?

I like the philosophical tangents – there is a great amount of wisdom and helpful advice for others with depression and anxiety and for those who may be around those who suffer.  And I do think this book is an important read.  I wish the actual writing  had been given a bit more attention…