Putting myself under immense pressure in the midst of A-Levels, university applications and the Covid-19 pandemic, it feels like a lifetime ago since I first picked up a Matt Haig novel. Swarmed by an amalgamation of stress, low mood and feelings of inadequacy, I took to old habits of reading in a bid to escape the extreme pressures I was under. The Midnight Library first introduced me to Haig’s unique blend of humour, heart and humanity, giving me the space to reflect on the feelings that were beginning to take over. Haig’s writing was the spark that I needed, a glimmer of light in a world that had been tainted with an overwhelming sense of doom and gloom.
It’s a narrative that comes straight from the heart of the author, one that enabled me to see how universal the struggles I was facing truly are.
Having read a number of Haig’s novels, The Midnight Library still stands out to me as his finest work. It tells the story of Nora Seed, who finds herself at a crossroads in her life and decides she wants to put an end to it all. Instead of dying, she wakes up in a library filled with books that allow her to explore different versions of her life and the choices she might have made. It’s a unique and imaginative concept that speaks to the idea that no matter how bleak our lives may seem, there is always the possibility for change and a better future. As you can imagine, it was rather fitting for what was going on in my life personally, having been tunnel visioned into a downward spiral. The narrative resonated with me a lot because of the messages Haig was so explicitly portraying. It’s a narrative that comes straight from the heart of the author, one that enabled me to see how universal the struggles I was facing truly are.
When reading Matt Haig, I think it’s important to know a thing or two about his life, as it really channels through to what we read in print. Reasons to Stay Alive chronicles his struggles with depression and anxiety and offers practical advice for managing these conditions. A major part of the book recounts a September day in Ibiza when Haig, aged 24, walked to a cliff edge with only one intention. It’s such an open and honest discussion of feelings that are in reality all too common. The standout quote of the memoir to me is,
To other people, it sometimes seems like nothing at all. You are walking around with your head on fire and no one can see the flames.
And, in the midst of university insomnia,
Three in the morning is never the time to try and sort out your life.
In reality, you could pull almost any quote out from that book, and you’d be able to find meaning in it. Reasons to Stay Alive was the book that made me truly understand what Haig’s writing was all about.
Once I had read that, Haig’s works began to feel a whole lot more personal, honest and open. The Humans was a big one for me as it is particularly clever in its use of the extra-terrestrial. It tells the story of an alien who takes over the body of a human mathematician and struggles to adapt to the hardships of human life. This odd dynamic showcases the reality of the world we live in, but in a truthful and sincere way. The book champions the importance of connection and empathy, exploring what it truly means to be human, both the good and the bad.
Alongside Reasons to Stay Alive, Haig’s other non-fiction works include Notes on a Nervous Planet and The Comfort Book. Be it fiction, non-fiction or even his children’s books, Haig’s writing is always imbued with a sense of hope and optimism. For me, reading Matt Haig is more like having a conversation, rather than just reading words off a page. Despite the issues Haig covers, it’s always a positive one and, given where I was at mentally, it was a much-needed break to what my head was telling me. I think for that reason I’ll always have a soft-spot for Matt Haig, as his books encouraged me to get talking and admit to myself that I needed some support.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t run away from what was bringing me down, and there had to come a time when something had to change.
What Haig also proved to me was that I really wasn’t the only one. His books have been recognised with several awards, such as the Blue Peter Book Award, the Smarties Prize, and the Independent Booksellers’ Book of the Year Award. They resonate with the lives of countless people from all over the world, and, from what I’m beginning to find out, with even the lives of the people you might least expect.
His works ultimately speak to something that lives in all of us. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t run away from what was bringing me down, and there had to come a time when something had to change. Haig’s writing was pivotal to me coming to terms and accepting who I was, and that is something I am eternally grateful for.