Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Matt Haig - The Midnight Library

Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

Comment: Although I was not impressed with the only other book I tried by this author, when I saw this was available at the library, I still brought it with me, for there's no denying it has been liked by many people and since it was free...

In this book we meet Nora Seed, a young woman whose live ended up in a situation where she can't seem to see herself out of. Nora is depressed and that only puts weight on all the negative things she perceives her life having and that is why one day she simply decides to give up.
However, something magical happens and Nora sees herself in a limbo with the aspect of a library, with rows of shelves without end and the librarian waiting for her is mrs Elm, the librarian she remembers form her school days. Nora is confused but mrs Elm explains this library is a golden opportunity for Nora to think about life and to let go of her regrets. She is then given a book where she an try different lives, had her choices in the past been different. Not all lives Nora tries are a good fit after all, but will Nora learn her lesson and feel her life is still full of possibilities?

What a cliche to say this, but I can see why so many readers have liked this novel. Nora is a likable character, whose thoughts and life seem to have reached a point of no return. Although not violent or tragic, her existence has been filled with disappointments and I believe it is easy for readers to empathize because we all would want to change something or we all have regrets, no matter the fact we can or cannot change that.

Nora was a brilliant child and she had, at some point, many dreams but fears and circumstances have made her choose a path where she didn't take many risks and let herself become tired and sad over that. One could say the author's aim was to show how one can still be clever and cautious while being a little ambitious and that is how life should be lived, in good measure, not too risk free but not too slow that we wouldn't appreciate the good things and the gains from any choice we make. It's true we can't guess what will go right or wrong, but that means no regrets afterwards, for a life well lived.

The message of this book is interesting, and as the pages went by I couldn't avoid comparing this book with the other one I've read, although different characters and plot devices, the same message was here: life is to be lived and we should not let fear of everything stagnate our existence and the wonderful adventure of meeting people and trying things to the fullest. I mean, it's rather obvious how the author conveys these things and part of me doesn't appreciate the novels as much (well, regarding this one and the other I've read at least) because the apparent higher message overcomes the fictional parts.

Nora is, indeed, a fascinating character, it's very easy to connect with her and the thoughts she has, after all we all have negative thoughts or moments, but her experience with this magical library, where she can try on possible lives depending on her choices feels more like a game of "why this isn't the right choice" than an actual attempt to move the plot along. The way this works is so artificially done, one can't help but understand exactly what's happening and the "moral lesson" is super obvious. Meaning, I missed some more depth to what this would mean for Nora and why it was important for her to have this opportunity.

In general, this story works because the narrative is fluid, small chapters help as does the simplicity of how the ideas are presented. However, I would go as far as to say there's a sense of too much superficiality and where things could have gone more interesting, or with more doubts on whether Nora would do this or that, never happen. I had the same feeling with the other book, which makes me conclude the author's style is definitely this and I can't say it feels like enough for me. I feel he could have pushed things further, to make the narrative even stronger and poignant.

Something I liked were the little additions of philosophical ideas, also some general factoids on some subjects (Nora was a clever child and had many interests as she got older) which added some veracity to Nora's wide range of knowledge and it this spoke to my curious mind but I kind of wish the plot had been better structured, stronger, and that did bring the grade down. The book is easy to read but the supposed part where the readers find things on their own is lacking because everything is obvious and told without much work.

I liked reading this, there were some cute moments and ideas but I certainly hoped for a lot more, considering all the positive reviews...
Grade: 7/10

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