By Matt Haig
On the worst of many bad days, Nora Seed decides to kill herself.
Her cat died. She was fired from the music store where she worked. Her last piano student is quitting. Her brother won’t forgive her for backing out of the band they were in when a music label wanted to sign them. She realizes she has no friends.
After swallowing a large quantity of pills and alcohol, she finds she isn’t dead. She’s in a library facing Mrs. Elm, her grade school librarian.
“Between life and death there is a library,’ Mrs. Elm tells her. ‘And within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be different if you had made other choices . . .”
But first, Nora needs to read THE BOOK OF REGRETS, all the things she wished she’d done differently during her life: pursued swimming, making her father happy, and possibly going to the Olympics; becoming a glaciologist; marrying the man she’d abandoned at the altar; going to Australia with her best friend; becoming a rock star . . . the list goes on and on.
But as she tries on these different lives, she discovers they weren’t what she thought they would be. Becoming a swimmer does take her to the Olympics, but it makes her suicidally unhappy. The fiancé wants to open a country pub, which is soon headed toward bankruptcy while he becomes an alcoholic.
She discovers that some of the paths she didn’t pursue were other people’s dreams, not hers. “In some lives she smashed through the glass ceiling and in some she just polished it.”
This is a delightful riff on Schrödinger’s cat, a quantum mechanics thought experiment in which a cat could be “considered both simultaneously alive and dead as a result of being linked to a random subatomic event that may or may not occur.”
Ultimately, Nora must make a decision. If she fails to decide within the time limits, she dies. If she has decided that she now wants to live, there’s only one book left to choose. That choice — that life — is the most surprising of all.
This novel is studded with the insights of the philosophers. Author Matt Haig manages to avoid creating a litany of alternative lives. THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY offers a lot of wisdom and hope that transforms even Nora’s life of desperate despair.
If you liked this book, you might like THE SCHRÖDINGER GIRL by Laurel Brett. It also is a tale of parallel lives.
About the Author: Matt Haig (1975 – )
Journalist and novelist Matt Haig writes both fiction and nonfiction for children and adults.
Similar to Nora Seed, Haig suffered an attack of depression and panic when he was 24 that nearly brought him to suicide. He still suffers from anxiety periodically.
His novels often take a dark and quirky view of family life. THE POSSESSION OF MR. CAVE is about an obsessive father trying to keep his teenage daughter safe. SHADOW FOREST is a fantasy that begins with the horrific death of the protagonists’ parents.
Others of his books are retellings of classic Shakespeare stories with modern twists: THE LAST FAMILY IN ENGLAND, retells Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, with dogs as the protagonists, and DEAD FATHERS CLUB is based on Hamlet with the story told from the point of view of an 11-year-old dealing with the recent death of his father and the appearance of his father’s ghost. He has also written about vampires, THE RADLEYS (2011) and aliens in THE HUMANS (2013).
Haig’s adult nonfiction book, REASONS TO STAY ALIVE, stayed on the top 10 best-sellers list in the United Kingdom for 46 weeks. Several of his books are being adapted for film: his best-selling children’s novel, FATHER CHRISTMAS AND ME, and HOW TO STOP TIME (2017), has been optioned by StudioCanal Films with Benedict Cumberbatch planned to star in it. The latter book is about a man who looks as if he were 40 years old but actually is more than 400 years old, and has met Shakespeare, Captain Cook and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Haig studied English and history at the University of Hull. He now lives in Brighton with his wife Andrea Semple and their two children and dog.