Book Review: “The Midnight Library” by Matthew Haig

Cover of "The Midnight Library" by Matt Haig.
Cover of “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig.

I’m back with another book review, and this time I’m reviewing “The Midnight Library” by Matthew Haig! Here’s a quick summary so we know what it’s about:

“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?

In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s enchanting new novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.”

Content Warning:

This book contains descriptions of suicidal thoughts, as well as an explicit description of attempted suicide in the book’s opening chapters. There are also discussions of infidelity, animal death, and some sexual content.

Plot Development: 3 out of 5 stars

Depending on which copy of the book one gets, the summary might be written differently. The copy of the book I received did not mention that Nora attempted suicide. It actually affected me so badly, as a reader, that I had to put the book down for several days before reading the rest of it. Thankfully, after the initial suicide attempt scene in the opening chapters, it never happens again. However, it is discussed occasionally between characters.

The vast majority of the plot (about eighty percent of it) follows Nora as she explores all the different, alternate lives she could have lived instead of the one she initially tried leaving. This comes with mixed results; some things will be better, but others are so much worse. And some alternate lives just aren’t good at all. Throughout this journey, Nora learns that no matter how many alternate lives there are, they aren’t her life. I wish I could elaborate more on this, but it would lead to some major spoilers.

The concept of the plot was good, but it felt a bit bare-bones in its execution. I thought there would be more time spent in some of the alternate lives, such as the one where Nora is happily married, or the glaciologist one. However, the plot twists and overall story itself felt fairly predictable from beginning to end. The repetitiveness of Nora living a new life, finding it unhappy (except for one or two lives), and then coming back to the Midnight Library to try out a new life also got a bit boring over time to me. It also doesn’t help that the overall pacing of the book’s story is fairly slow.

Character Development: 2 out of 5 stars

Despite the book’s focus on Nora learning to be appreciative of the life she had, I felt that I barely got to know her. Even though she lived many versions of her life, she mostly came out the same way she came in. She was unhappy, sometimes thinking suicidal thoughts, before deciding to try out another life. There were common threads that I did pick up about her background. This included her family life, the friends she had, and her cat. However, I didn’t learn a lot about her on a personality basis. Even at the end of the story, when it’s revealed that she (spoiler alert!) survived her suicide attempt and decided that she still wanted to live, I felt, as a reader, that she didn’t change much other than being more appreciative of life in general.

As for the other characters, most of them didn’t exist for long save for Mrs. Elm due to Nora bouncing between alternate lifetimes. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time given for me, as a reader, to get to know Mrs. Elm as a person/figment of Nora’s mind either.

Worldbuilding Development: 4 out of 5 stars

I liked the concept of there being a library where one can live out different lives, even if it’s only momentarily. I also think this worldbuilding was the strongest in the book. It had a chance to shine in how each of the lives Nora tried out were vastly different from each other. This especially stood out when Nora lived as a professional swimmer and glaciologist. I’m not a professional swimmer nor a glaciologist, so I can’t say how accurate describing Nora doing the work was. However, it did lend to some nice descriptions in the book.

Overall, I’m rating this book 3 out of 5 stars!

Though the plot is fairly predictable, and the characters lacked development, the worldbuilding in this book was good. I would not recommend this book to those who don’t like slow plotlines. I also would not recommend reading the opening chapters for those who are uncomfortable with suicide. However, anyone interested in the concept of living different lives and imagining the what-if situations of life will enjoy reading this book.

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