Thursday, January 11, 2024

The Midnight Library

The Midnight Library
  The Midnight Library
Author:  Matt Haig
Publication Information:  Viking. 2020. 304 pages.
ISBN:  0525559477 / 978-0525559474

Rating:  ★★★★

Book Source:  I read this book as a selection of a local book group.

Opening Sentence:  "Nineteen years before she decided to die, Nora Seed sat in the warmth of the small library at Hazeldene School in the town of Bedford."

Favorite Quote:  "You don't have to understand life. You just have to live it."

Reader, beware. The book begins with contemplation and attempt of a suicide. If that is a trigger, perhaps this book is not for you.

At some point in our lives, we have all wondered. What if? What if I did not go down that road at that point? What if I lived on a different street? What if I went to a different school? What if I pursued a different career? What if.... What if I made a different choice?

Now, first imagine a library with an infinite number of books! Yes! Now imagine that this library is for you specifically! Yes! Now imagine that not only is it for you specifically, but it answers the question what if. Not just one what if, but every what if ever in your life! It can show you the path and the outcome if you chose a different path.

Given that any one of us makes a multitude of choices even just in one day and given that each choice combination has an exponential impact, it is easy to see how that may lead to what seems to be an infinite number of possibilities. 

That is the wonderful premise of the midnight library. This is the opportunity presented to Nora at the beginning of the book. An opportunity to see the what ifs and then choose. It sounds amazing, right?

Follow Nora's journey to see if it is and what she discovers. Interestingly, Nora's journey into each life is not as the Nora who would inhabit that life had she made that different choice. Rather, it is this Nora who has attempted suicide and is seeing that life without actually being that Nora. In each life, she is in effect acting as herself but is not really herself. "You are right to think of these lives like a plane where you're playing tunes that aren't really you. You are forgetting who you are. You are forgetting your root life. You are forgetting what worked for you and what didn't. You are forgetting your regrets."

Given that setup, the ending of this book goes about where I expect it to. "We only know what we perceive. Everything we experience is ultimately just our perception of it. IT's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." Something unexpected might have added even more impact to the book, but, then again, perhaps this could not possibly have ended in any other way. Regardless, the journey to that end is worth it.

The idea of the path not taken has been explored in many different books and movies. The approach of creating a personalized library of lives makes this book unique and, as a reader, of course appeals to me. That and the delve into the philosophy surrounding this question makes the book work for me.

Book Club Discussion

The reaction in our book club to this read were mixed. Much of that difference centered around the fact that the philosophical premise of this book ties into the nonfiction self-help genre and that does not work for many people. As Nora experiences each life, there are of course the lessons of that life. Most people have either love or really dislike books of that genre, and this reaction to this fiction parallels.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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