Afterthoughts: Midnight Library by Matt Haig

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Matt Haig has outdone himself with The Midnight Library. If you’ve ever read a Matt Haig book, you’ll be familiar with the thematic and tonal directions in which he takes the reader. I prefer The Midnight Library over his other works because of the imagination and sensitivity with which he is able to explore notions of regret – it is oh so relatable and ultimately heart-warming.

“It is easy to mourn the lives we aren’t living. Easy to wish we’d developed other other talents, said yes to different offers. Easy to wish we’d worked harder, loved better, handled our finances more astutely, been more popular, stayed in the band, gone to Australia, said yes to the coffee or done more bloody yoga. It takes no effort to miss the friends we didn’t make and the work we didn’t do the people we didn’t do and the people we didn’t marry and the children we didn’t have. It is not difficult to see yourself through the lens of other people, and to wish you were all the different kaleidoscopic versions of you they wanted you to be. It is easy to regret, and keep regretting, ad infinitum, until our time runs out.

The story follows Nora Seed, like many of us, she feels trapped in her life and that there is nowhere else to go. After a particularly bad day, she decides to take her life but happens to wake up at the Midnight Library where she meets a trusted face whom plays guide to all her alternative lives. Over the course of the book she explores her biggest regrets, he biggest what-if-I-did-that moments.

But it is not lives we regret not living that are the real problem. It is the regret itself. It’s the regret that makes us shrivel and wither and feel like our own and other people’s worst enemy.

What struck me most were the philosophical allusions. Each one seemed perfectly well-timed and placed to hit hard on the psyche. Thoreau’s words on perspective being the ultimate arbiter of mood, not the objective reality of the situation echoed throughout the book and really sank in for me. A simple example being if someone you are meeting up with is late: frustration would be a natural reaction, but another more charitable reaction could be, perhaps something happened and our thoughts turn to hoping everything is alright. The objective reality remained the same, only the way we interpreted the situation changed. In many ways, this is the central idea Haig tries to push home. He does it in such mesmeric way, taking the reader on a ride not quite like a rollercoaster, but certainly like a being on a speedboat with the wind in our faces – full-on but in an elegant and controlled manner.

We can’t tell if any of those other versions would of been better or worse. Those lives are happening, it is true, but you are happening as well, and that is the happening we have to focus on.”


Highly Recommended. Midnight Library is a gem of a book and it’s no surprise it won top spot in the best fiction award in the 2020 Goodreads Reader’s Choice Awards. Matt Haig explores the infinitely relatable rabbit hole of regrets, of what ifs – it is charming, sensitive, and above all, written with care and affection.

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