A Library with white bookshelves taken from an angle that makes it look infinite.

“The Midnight Library” as a Voice Against Societal Noise

Matt Haig’s Viral Phenomenon: the Good, the Bad, and the Cats.

I got the inspiration to pick up The Midnight Library by Matt Haig after reading someone else’s recommendation on Medium. I’ve already read The Humans by Haig a couple years ago and found it to be just the right kind of book to get me out of a reading block. Let’s just say, The Midnight Library didn’t disappoint on that front. I finished it within a few days and am now ready to share a few insights and impressions.

The Midnight Library is told from the perspective of Nora Seed, a woman who commits suicide and gets an opportunity to fix her regrets through a place that exists between life and death called, you guessed it, the Midnight Library. I initially thought this was more of a fantasy book, but all the concepts in it are sci-fi. The book is written in the third person, but with a very short psychic distance, which makes it feel more like a first-person POV. Nora as a character is not always likable and sometimes acts like a 5-year-old, but is well-educated, quick-witted, and does well learning from her mistakes. The overall premise is fairly repetitive and predictable, but the infinite possibilities within each life were less so. So even though we all knew she was going to try a life where she became an Olympic swimmer, we couldn’t possibly predict how exactly that life turned out for Nora. And I think that’s what makes this book so interesting.

The one thing I really enjoyed about The Midnight Library was the multitude of fun scientific facts the author incorporated, whether it was about the stomach lining or volcanoes.

“The paradox of volcanoes was that they were symbols of destruction but also life. Once the lava slows and cools, it solidifies and then breaks down over time to become soil — rich, fertile soil”

Moreover, it made a really good point about humans being a part of nature:

“She imagined accepting it all. The way she accepted nature. The way she accepted a glacier or a puffin or the breach of a whale.

She imagined seeing herself as just another brilliant freak of nature. Just another sentient animal, trying their best.

And in doing so, she imagined what it was like to be free.”

We always talk about protecting nature or connecting with nature, but we sometimes forget that we are nature. Just as much of a wonder as the butterfly outside our window.

This book also quotes a few philosophers as the original Nora got a philosophy degree and even named her cat Voltaire! I thought naming a cat after a philosopher was brilliant, and if I ever get one, I might copy Nora’s strategy.

“We don’t have to have tried every variety of grape from every vineyard to know the pleasure of wine.”

This book also does a good job of covering the pressure of the modern world to try everything and be Everything Everywhere All at Once(affiliate link). It’s a great movie by the way! I think just the fact that both the movie and this book became so popular shows that it’s an issue that resonates with people. In our interconnected half-virtual world, we get to see so many things and so many lives that people are leading and we can’t stop comparing and wanting those things. But at the end of the day, it’s just a constant overload for our brains. We work our asses off just to compare our mental health problems. From our parents to our neighbors to the media, we are constantly bombarded with others’ definitions of success and failure to the point where we forget what they mean to us. We constantly get ads from people who apparently make millions of dollars and do whatever they want all day, and if you’re not following their formula, then what are you even doing with your life?!

I understand the people who felt negatively about this book because of the self-help and tautology that it contains, however, I think that’s partially the nature of the main character herself and partially a fight against those other voices around us. The whole story is based on Nora’s introspection, so of course we’re going to follow her thought processes and watch her have epiphanies. If stream of consciousness is not your cup of tea, then this might not be the book for you.

This book wasn’t quite as funny as The Humans, but even if rare, Matt’s humor is always perfectly clever.

“Nora decided to keep her experience of the Midnight Library to herself because she imagined that it wouldn’t go down too well on a psychiatric evaluation form. It was safe to surmise that little-known realities of the multiverse probably weren’t yet incorporated within the care plans of the National Health Service.”

One interesting thing I noticed was how carefully Haig introduced the idea of Nora’s potential motherhood. Once Nora jumped into the life where she had a daughter and fell in love with that child, I became suspicious of the trope of a woman’s need for motherhood. However, I think Haig did a great job focusing on the love and support aspect of Nora’s life over her role as a mother. Additionally, the fact that there were other lives she tried where she had children, but only the life with Molly made her happy helped resolve my worries.

My favorite of Nora’s lives was probably the one where she got to be a glaciologist. Everything from the bear encounter to meeting another “slider” to having terrible sex was very entertaining and memorable.

I recommend The Midnight Library(affiliate link) to anybody who has a lot of regrets in life and is not afraid of some stream of consciousness (also check out The Humans if you need a good laugh). If you’ve read this book, what are your thoughts on it? And if you haven’t, does this sound like the book for you?


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