The Midnight Library

I sent Matt Haig a tweet. What are you, like thirty? How is it that you know so much about life? He’s not thirty, he’s forty-seven, but this was years ago, when I still used Twitter, when I read his book The Humans. Last night I closed the book on The Midnight Library. Maybe not as insightful as The Humans, but pretty impressive. Of course, he’s almost fifty. His age now seems more appropriate for his storytelling.

Caution: This essay contains spoilers for The Midnight Library. Seriously, big spoilers.

The first time I tried to read The Midnight Library, I failed. Or maybe I bailed. Whatever. I got a bit beyond the first chapter and I shook my head. “I think this book is going to depress me.” It left me feeling uncomfortable. It left a pit in my stomach.

“Then don’t read it.” Susan gets frustrated when I read a book that sets me off. Every night I dive in, one week, two weeks. An hour later while going to bed: “Wow, that book really upset me.” The trigger in The Midnight Library was all the talk of regrets. After Nora, the protagonist, died by suicide, she faced her lifetime of regrets. Literally. Mrs. Elm handed Nora a book of all her regrets, and she made Nora read it beginning to end.

For years, I had no regrets. That’s what I always said. “I have no regrets.”

I just couldn’t see them. I lacked the introspection to see where I might have failed, what I might have lost. The alcohol distracted me. The running and the biking too, I never sat still long enough to see what surrounded me.  Blogging changed that. I spent hours each week thinking and writing, analyzing myself. And fatherhood—thirty minutes in the dark bottle feeding a baby every night offers ample time to get to know yourself better. My list of regrets blossomed and grew.

Now, in a better mental state than when I last tried to read The Midnight Library, I plowed in and loved it. After reading her book of regrets, Mrs. Elm encouraged Nora to try one of her other lives. One multiverse theory is that at every decision point, a second universe begins. In this one, I fed the cats. In that one, I forgot. Two universes spiral away from one another with differences, small at first, but over time, a whole different plot forms.

Nora, an amazing swimmer, decided in high school to quit the swim team. “Go check out this other life,” Mrs. Elm said, “the one where you didn’t quit.” Nora tries out countless lives. In some she’s a wildly successful, in others she’s a slacker. In none of the lives is she particularly happy. And like Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life, she gets to see how her actions changed the people around her. In this life, her brother’s dead. In that life, her mother died. And this life over there, it’s her best friend who’s killed in a car crash while visiting Nora.

It’s a heady book. Matt Haig again proves he’s smarter than everyone else by showing us what a waste of time regret is. Possibly you missed out on something big, possibly you narrowly escaped disaster. Probably both at once. It doesn’t matter. Live the life you’re living. We already learned in the Wizard of Oz “there’s no place like home.”

If I have any complaint about the book, it’s that I knew the ending, the moral, half way into the story. It didn’t detract from my enjoyment. In fact, because I got to the same conclusion on my own, I think it reinforced what Matt was trying to tell me.

Look, I’ve already told you the plot of the book, but I encourage you to read The Midnight Library anyway. I see this as a before and after book. It completely changed my perception of some of my regrets—specifically my failed relationships. Before, I felt helpless, now I have hope.

I wish I didn’t abandon Twitter all those years ago (regret, easily remedied), I’d like to reach out to Matt again and offer a new message without an undertone of hostility. The guy truly understands life. I’m thankful he’s sharing what he knows with the rest of us.

Image credit: Chris Coady, inews.co.uk

30 thoughts on “The Midnight Library

  1. I have a confession.
    I read to escape.
    Not to think too deeply.
    I read a book by Bryce Courtney a while back.
    It was brilliant.
    It was also very unsettling.
    I have another one by him here.
    I can’t open the damn thing.
    So, I am reading a James Herriot.
    No stress there.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I read this book a year or so ago. I enjoyed it until I figured out the ending halfway through as well, then spent the latter half wishing it wouldn’t end that way, because I rather enjoyed all her adventures. But in the end, yes, I wouldn’t want to be living any other life than the one I’m living, and it’s a repeatedly startling revelation to realize that all the regrets I’ve carried around for so long served a purpose to bring me here..

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved this book. I’m a pretty tough critic when it come to giving star ratings. Rarely do I ever give a 5 star rating immediately after reading a book. I find that when the year is over I will look back at the books I read and see which ones I loved the most, and maybe (although rarely) up a star rating. This book was my favorite of the year the year that I read it although I left it at a 4 star rating for the same reason – the end was predictable but the moral of the story really hit home.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t really review many books. I think I’ve given a few five star ratings, but sparingly. I wish I could look up all my amazon ratings to see how I ranked books. I’ve read some really good ones, but I can’t remember their names. From the start, I was uncomfortable with the idea that she was hijacking someone else’s life every time she dropped in one.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sounds like an interesting book.
    I occasionally have regrets over some things that happened in my young adult life. If I could do things over I would have permanently left home the day after graduating from high school.
    But if I had taken that path I would have never met my husband and had my wonderful children. So in that respect I guess life eventually led me in the right direction.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. this book is on my “to read” list. just haven’t gotten around to it yet (so many books!). as to regrets: “The feelings that hurt most, the emotions that sting most, are those that are absurd – The longing for impossible things, precisely because they are impossible; nostalgia for what never was; the desire for what could have been; regret over not being someone else; dissatisfaction with the world’s existence. All these half-tones of the soul’s consciousness create in us a painful landscape, an eternal sunset of what we are.” ― Fernando Pessoa

    (don’t look back, you’re not going that way!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • As I read your comment, I was like, damn, Linnie can really write! Then I saw it was a quote. Now I’m like , damn, Linnie can really pick a good quote. It’s an extremely fast read. I might have done it in three sittings, four at the most, and I’m a pretty slow reader.

      Liked by 1 person

      • there’s always either a quote or a song that will go with any post (sometimes both!). I have that particular quote in my journal, and when i read your post, i immediately wanted to share. glad you liked!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Super cool. Yes: the terrain of regrets. The language of regrets, the regret tongue. It seems to be a necessary little vial to pop open and whiff, then perhaps pour on a part of the lawn you don’t mind killing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sorry for being so late with my comment, Jeff. This sounds like an excellent read. I will put it on my to-read list, but it might take a while to get to the top of the pile as I already have several books lined up already. As for regrets, I have loads, unfortunately – mostly from my earlier life – things like my drinking (now sober nearly 11 years), drugs (ditto), and bad decisions about friendships and family relationships, which got destroyed in the mess of the above. If I could go back and change all that, would I? Hell, yes. Unfortunately, that’s not possible, so over the last few years, I’ve done my best to make amends and re-established my relationships in a new and healthier way. I like the concept of other universes giving us choices on which direction to take. I can think of many examples where I could have taken a different route in life. Having said all that, I guess if I hadn’t made all those mistakes, I wouldn’t be the person I am now (not saying that’s perfect – far from it). But, I’ve learned lessons, and I’m still here and living my life the best way I know. Thanks for sharing this book review and your feelings about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My first thought is that I’d like a window into those alternate lives to see how things turned out. but if they were better than mine, it would probably just generate more regret. I’ve been really immersed in life choices for the past few days. I’ve been listening to a podcast on the Kink’s album “Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)”. It’s about a British man born around 1900 with a rather miserable life. It’s got me looking at people on the street and wondering if their life is satisfying. And is my life satisfying. Heady stuff. I’ll probably blog about it, but it seems like it will be difficult to write. Thank you for your comment. Overriding theme,,, Live the life you’re in.

      Liked by 1 person

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