Fantasy novel evokes gratitude for the little things in life

By: Chloë Williams, Columnist 

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own 

“The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig: 8/10.

“The Midnight Library” is English writer Matt Haig’s latest release. It was an instant success perhaps due to its deeply resonating story that appeals to the perpetual rut many of us find ourselves in, in a world dominated by COVID-19. 

While it is a science fiction and fantasy story, its core plotline is rooted in the very mundane life of Nora Seed.  Nora lives her life to please others, and at 35-years-old has suddenly discovered that she had never followed through with a single one of her own ambitions. A hasty suicide attempt lands her in a library-shaped purgatory run by her old school librarian. 

Each book on the shelf holds a different life for Nora. She is surrounded by the many different turns her life could have taken, and is presented with the unique opportunity to try them all on for size. Should she have moved to Australia? Married her ex? Listened to all her father’s advice after all? Nora is presented with a chance to explore the ultimate question- what if?

This novel is an easy-reader but is by no means a piece of brain candy. The writing style is jam-packed with detail and description. Haig makes sure the reader gets the full picture of each scene, planting them right next to Nora in each room she enters. As for the story, the reader is quickly invested in the plight of Nora and equally fascinated by the Midnight Library.

If anything, I wanted to know more about each life she lived, including her original story. The novel never stays in one place too long, always hurrying to reach that next great life for Nora in the book next door. Nora never takes time to linger in any one life, even her original one. However, with a swiftly-moving plot that reinvents itself every few chapters, “The Midnight Library” is an undeniable page-turner. 

What is especially fascinating about Nora’s arrangement is her ability to be a voyeur into her own life. When she chooses a new life off of the shelf, her consciousness inhabits an entirely unfamiliar self. Sometimes she looks like herself, while in other experiences she is unrecognizable. Ultimately, she body-snatches herself and must figure out her own life using context clues and carefully-posed questions to the people around her.

This plot device is reminiscent of Haig’s celebrated novel, “The Humans,” in which an alien inhabits the body of an English father and professor. Fans of Haig’s work will enjoy the continued exploration of life seen through unfamiliar eyes, yet appreciate the concept of experiencing the self in multiple forms.

“The Midnight Library” is a must-read for the pandemic, as it reminds us to take advantage of the things already present in our lives. In spite of canceled vacations, online school and endless Zoom calls, there are aspects of our lives worth our attention. Perhaps while we were swept up in a blur of days that looked the same, we started neglecting some of the people or hobbies that brought us joy. I would venture to say that we all have a bit of Nora Seed living in us at this moment in time, and a good trip into “The Midnight Library” is exactly the remedy.

Leave a Reply