You won't regret it
The word “charming” comes to mind
Sometimes I read a book because I’ve seen an advertisement for it. Sometimes I choose a book because the blurb sounds interesting. I’ve been known to buy a book because I love the cover art or because the title sounds like music on my tongue. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig appealed to me because I’m a book lover, and what book lover can resist a book about a library filled with stories about the lives you might have lived?
To tell the truth, the word “charming” came to mind after I finished reading this novel, but not at first. In fact, I was frustrated with what I perceived as the whining of the morose main character, Nora Seed.
Granted, things aren’t going well for Nora Seed. She’s alone. She’s lost her job. She’s had a falling out with her brother and she’s lost contact with her best friend who has moved to Australia. Listless and sad, Nora is stuck in a sad place, and I was frustrated with her inability to fight back. To do something.
Instead, she decides to commit suicide.
I almost didn’t keep going.
But I’m glad I did.
“Regrets, I’ve had a few…”
Remember the lyrics to the old Paul Anka song, “My Way?” The line says, “Regrets, I’ve had a few.” Who among us hasn’t had regrets. How many of us have sighed, “Oh, if only….” or wished for a “do-over” like guys in the movie “City Slickers”? Everyone thinks, “What if…” occasionally a few times.
The book started feeling personal when, after Nora swallows a bunch of pills, she first arrived at the Midnight Library, a place between life and death where the shelves are filled with thousands upon thousands of books. Each volume depicts the life she might have had if she had made different choices.
That is the hook that drew me in, the age-old question of how life would have been different if she’d behaved differently. Mrs. Elm, a kind and benevolent mentor from Nora’s youth who taught her to play chess, is the librarian at the Midnight Library, searching out the alternative lives of the multi-universe possibilities.
But not before she asks Nora to make a list of her regrets.
As Nora Seed lists the regrets of her own life, I started playing along, listing all the things I wish I’d done differently.
I wish I’d tried to understand my Mother more.
I wish I’d gone to France in college to study instead of getting married so young.
I wish I had investigated other career choices.
I wish I had tried harder at math classes.
I wish I’d dated more and remained single longer.
I regret the pain I caused my daughters when I divorced my first husband.
I regret losing touch with several old friends.
I regret that I spent money instead of saving it now that I’m nearing retirement.
I regret that when I downsized, I gave away most of my books and all of my teapots.
You get the idea. It’s not a pleasant exercise. It’s a painful one, and it caused me to wonder how my life would be different if I had made other choices.
The balance of regrets and possibilities
As a reader, I watched Nora’s various alternate lives unfold, each life diverging in a different direction from the one she had based on a single decision. She experiences the world from the point of view of a glaciologist, a mother, a rock star. Her relationships weave, wobble, and develop based on each move she makes.
It’s fun playing along with Nora, imagining what your own life might be “if only…”
But it’s also painful because some of those alternative lives that sounded so wonderful in our heads are not what we made them out to be.
Nora Seed is allowed to pull different volumes off the shelves of The Midnight Library to find the life she should belong in…the right life for her.
Of course, rather predictably, we find that the right life for her was the one she was already in.
The beauty of it all
The story of The Midnight Library prodded me to examine some of my regrets and realize that even though there were things I would like to have done differently, the outcome may have been the same anyway. I don’t want to give anything away, but the fate of Nora’s cat, “Volt,” short for Voltaire, was the perfect example.
Sometimes I egocentrically think that I caused a reaction that would have happened without me anyway. Sometimes a lack of response or a problem is caused by extenuating circumstances that have nothing to do with me.
Paul Anka’s line about regrets floats around in my brain again:
“Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.”
Not everything I regret is valid.
The more you deal with regrets, and the fewer of them you have, the more possibilities you have in the future. Like some kind of mathematical equation,
decreased regrets = increased possibilities.
I’m a sucker for a new author with a good story
Until The Midnight Library, I had never heard of the English novelist and children’s author, Matt Haig, but I will definitely be reading more of his work. He has a movie coming out in December of 2021 based on his book, A Boy Called Christmas. He’s the author of Reasons to Stay Alive, How to Stop Time, The Humans, The Radleys, and many more. Matt Haig’s books have sold more than 3 million copies worldwide.
I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed the book. See these snippets of reviews pulled from Haig’s website to see if you’d like to experience The Midnight Library, too.
“Haig is one of the most inspirational popular writers on mental health of our age and, in his latest novel, he has taken a clever, engaging concept and created a heart-warming story that offers wisdom in the same deceptively simple way as Mitch Albom’s best tales” — Independent
“A brilliant premise and great fun to have so many stories within one book” — Daily Mail
“An uplifting, poignant novel about regret, hope and second chances” — David Nicholls
“Amazing and utterly beautiful, The Midnight Library is everything you’d expect from the genius storyteller who is Matt Haig” — Joanna Cannon
“Love this man’s books” — Jodi Picoult
Take a tip from me
Don’t do what I sometimes do with books which is to over-analyze and study them instead of simply enjoying them. They are STORIES, after all, and a bit of whimsy with multiple universes and alternative lives thrown in may be just what you need.
Read it for fun. Enjoy the story. Apply the lessons of Nora Seed’s existence to your own life. You’ll feel better about both the possibilities of your future and see how to release the regrets of your past.
Even with the millions of other novels out there waiting to be read, choosing The Midnight Library is one decision that I don’t regret.
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