Book Review

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Between life and death there is a library.

When Nora Seed finds herself in the Midnight Library, she has a chance to make things right. Up until now, her life has been full of misery and regret. She feels she has let everyone down, including herself. But things are about to change.

The books in the Midnight Library enable Nora to live as if she had done things differently. With the help of an old friend, she can now undo every one of her regrets as she tries to work out her perfect life. But things aren’t always what she imagined they’d be, and soon her choices place the library and herself in extreme danger.

Before time runs out, she must answer the ultimate question: what is the best way to live?

I think that most people have, at some point in their lives, wondered what would have happened if they’d made a different choice – if they’d done x instead of y, seized an opportunity presented to them, or decided not to do something that they have since regretted.  Some of those decisions are inconsequential, others less so, and while there are sometimes second chances, there are cases in which we may not know whether the choice we made was the right one. 

Not so for Nora Seed, the protagonist of Matt Haig’s latest novel, The Midnight Library.  Nora is a woman who feels that she has nothing left to give, and that the world has nothing left to offer her.  She sees her life as one of unfulfilled dreams and potential – she stopped competitive swimming, quit the band, didn’t study to become a glaciologist, and bailed on her fiancé two days before their wedding.  Attempting to take her own life, she finds herself in the Midnight Library – a place between life and death where her regrets are stored and where all the lives she could have lived are recorded.

We can’t tell if any of those other versions would have better or worse.

Matt Haig, The Midnight Library

Given this opportunity, she begins – reluctantly at first – to explore the lives that she could have lived, starting with marrying her fiancé, Dan, instead of leaving him just before their wedding.  It’s a revelation, and she soon comes to see that while she may not have done the things she wanted or had planned to do – or the things that others wanted her to do – the alternatives come with their own pros and cons, and aren’t necessarily better as she had assumed.  And slowly but surely, her regrets become less of a burden to her.    

This was not the life she imagined it to be.

Matt Haig, The Midnight Library

Like all of Haig’s novels, The Midnight Library is an emotional read, and I laughed and cried as Nora journeyed through her different lives. It’s a novel that gives plenty of food for thought, and I found myself thinking over some of the choices I’ve made – the good and the bad – from a slightly different angle than before.  I think that there’s a key message in the novel that life is there to be lived. People make choices all the time – some of those choices will be good and others may not turn out as we intended. Either way, there’s no guarantee that the alternative would have resulted in something better.  I think that there’s also a more subtle point made in the novel that you make your own choices, and you should make those choices for yourself, rather than trying to live up to the expectations and / or desires of others. 

The Midnight Library is published by Canongate, and is available in hardback, eBook, and audio formats now. A paperback edition will be released in February 2021.


    1. Thank you, Nicki! I know what you mean, but I think that if you can get past that first bit then you’ll enjoy this – while there are good and bad outcomes, the overall message is a positive one! x

  1. I know there have been a lot of mixed reviews of this book, but I liked it. I did listen to the audiobook and there were times, I had to back it up until I got into it. Wonderful review.

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