The New Year is a time to look ahead, to look at how to make your life better and perhaps boldly tread where you’ve been afraid to step before. Our book pick this month, The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (Canongate Books, 2020) is the perfect gentle page-turner that promises to lift your spirits perhaps even entice you to follow your dreams.
Nora is an ordinary person living a not-so-brilliant ordinary life. There’s no shame in that but this charmingly-normal protagonist wrestles with the ‘what if?’s of life. We join her in the Midnight Library at the point where she decides to end it all and is hovering in the hinterland between her life and an imminent death where she has been the chance to explore those other lives she hasn’t lived (richer, stronger, more focused or more famous). Will she be happier? In a story of twists and turns, we find ourselves, in one chapter, in a country pub in Littleworth, Oxfordshire, and in another living the celebrity highlife. But, are these alternative existences always better, and what of the repercussions on those around her? Will Nora return – or even be able to return - to her normal life and if she does, how will it be different?
Although the first twenty pages offer some insight into the mind of someone who feels they have come to the end of the road, the book is unashamedly light-hearted as Nora tastes different versions of herself. We’ve all wondered whether we should have stuck with a previous job or jumped ship; whether we should have married our childhood sweetheart; or whether travelling the world would have led to a more exciting existence. If life gives you lemons, can you make a delicious Lemon Meringue Pie? It’s a pleasure to explore an array of alternatives and the story is wonderful, inventive and heart-warming as you question whether these are the things which matter.
In a seemingly-simple beautifully-written read without a radical unexpected finale, Matt Haig offers good advice, that you should set aside guilt or regret about those paths you didn’t follow to the mystical land of what-could-have-been and simply be kind to yourself. The Midnight Library is a celebration of individual accomplishments, whatever or how small they may be, and it offers bright hope for the journey ahead, from wherever you are starting out right now. Love is the heart of this modern-day fable that reminds us that life can be good if you choose to love it. Hold those that are dear to you close, and here’s hoping.