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‘The Midnight Library’ was my favourite 2020 read

Trigger-warning: suicide

Since its release in August 2020, my Bookstagram feed has been crammed with aesthetic pictures of The Midnight Library, so I just had to give it a read myself – and I’m glad I did. It’s so enchanting, creative and, dare I say, inspirational, but doesn’t fall into the trap of being cheesy. It’s also no surprise that it has already been snapped up for a film deal in 2021, and I really hope it manages to do Haig’s beautiful imagery justice.

The book is narrated by the protagonist Nora, who after committing suicide wakes up in the Midnight Library. Here she has the opportunity to experience any life she may have lived if she had just made one decision differently. The ultimate goal is to find a life she is completely happy with, but of course she cannot do this without difficulty.

There’s something really magical about viewing each person’s life (or each life they could have lived) as a book

What intrigued me the most was the creation of the Midnight Library itself. The idea of parallel lives and wondering how one simple decision could influence not only your own life, but also other people’s, are concepts not unfamiliar to pop culture: from the 1998 Sliding Doors movie to It’s a Wonderful Life. What Haig does differently is represent this thought process through the physical experience of choosing a book from a library. I think there’s something really magical about viewing each person’s life (or each life they could have lived) as a book.

My only criticism is the way this part of the story is revealed. Another character, Hugo, also experiences what Nora does, and tells her that the library is just her brain’s way of coping with things. If you’ve ever seen the movie Sourcecode, it reminded me of that – the brain creating a mental image to deal with what is happening. Hugo’s ‘library’ is a videogame store, and he watches movies instead of opening books to different pathways of his life. However, the character of Hugo and this revelation all felt a bit deus ex machina to me. I feel like there could have been a more elegant way to explain everything to the reader; but regardless, the library is still really creative.

Nora is ordinary, but this is what makes her all the more endearing and easy to connect with

As for the character of Nora, the way we learn about her is interesting as well. Since when the book starts her original life is basically over, the way we connect with her is through the lives she hasn’t lived. We learn about who she really is through hearing about who she isn’t, and I don’t think I’ve seen this done in other books. Nora isn’t a rock-star, an Olympic swimmer or a ground-breaking scientist – she’s just a down to earth person who just feels a bit hopeless, which sadly I’m sure a lot of us can relate to at the moment. Nora is ordinary, but this is what makes her all the more endearing and easy to connect with.

I also like how romance was peppered throughout, but didn’t take centre stage. Especially since the book is written in first person, I thought it would be the main focus. But instead, Nora’s potential career choices drive most of the story, and we get an insight into how her decisions impact her family.

For a book that deals with a rather sensitive subject, Haig handles everything really well. Sure, there is a rather dark undertone to the story, but there are still some light-hearted and funny moments that serve as good comic relief. Every time Nora enters a life, she enters at the age she currently is, and so we read of her awkward experiences trying to navigate conversations and interacting with strangers whom she is mean to know. My favourite was her attempt to fake being a glacial expert.

Overall, I think there is something really beautiful about the way Haig writes and the questions his book raises. The ending of The Midnight Library left me feeling hopeful, even in the bleak chaos of 2020, and I think it’s a book we all need right now.

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