The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
If you had the chance to re-live your life by making pivotal choices differently, would you? And would you be any happier? This look at what we do to create our lives for ourselves is sensitive and affecting.
The literary device of having a character live repeated lives is not a new one, but the theme is handled with special sensitivity in this novel of regret and redemption. Nora Seed is an unhappy woman who wishes more than anything for an end to her unsatisfactory life, or so she thinks. So many things have gone wrong for her, and she obsessively enumerates them until no longer able to bear the unhappiness, she attempts suicide.
She is transported, however, to the Midnight Library, a place that seems to house an infinite number of books and a friend from childhood, Mrs. Elm, the school librarian who was the person who offered the most sympathetic and helpful aid when Nora was feeling unloved and rudderless. What she offers is a chance to live any number of alternate life streams, those which exist for us all depending on what seem at the time to be trivial choices but which direct subsequent events for good or ill. Initially skeptical, Nora agrees to try after having recounted her woes spelled out in The Book of Regrets, the reading of which is painful, debilitating and nearly fatal. As each book opens, she finds herself in an alternate reality, one of the infinite possibilities based on sometimes invisible pivot points. She is told that if she is not satisfied, she will return to the Midnight Library to choose another book, another life. Time after time she enters one of her maybe lives, only to return again and again without finding the right place.
A close examination of what makes us happy or unhappy, what is meaningful or provides purpose and how we are the captains of our own fates is told with great tenderness and attention to the fragility of the human soul. This is an extraordinarily affecting story that touches that which is in us all, the search for the reasons why we are here and why we have become what we are. It directs us to take stock of our lives and to place value where it should be, not where it is expected or demanded. It is not always a comfortable tale, but one which will reward the faithful in the end.
Finely written and demonstrating great sympathy for as well as empathy with the human condition, the reading of this book will be a worthwhile expense of one’s precious time. I recommend it.