Book Review – The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

books, reviews

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Yet again, I was looking for a quick audiobook to listen to at work. I chose a book that I’ve been wondering about for a while. There’s something about Matt Haig that people just love and this book more than any other. I wasn’t convinced. The only other book that I’ve read by him didn’t go as well as I wanted. Plus, it was given a Goodreads award in 2020 and that’s never really an indication that it will be for me. Goodreads is a great place to track my reads but they have a very specific sense of what is good. Normally that doesn’t coincide with my tastes. Still, I figured it would be a pretty easy book to listen to and would give me something to review while I’m getting through Birnam Wood.

 I read Notes on a Nervous Planet but didn’t think it added a great deal to the discussion about mental health. It was just a lot of trite and unhelpful lists. So, I went into The Midnight Library not really expecting a great deal. It sounded like an interesting concept though and I was willing to give it a go. The Midnight Library just seemed like a mix between It’s A Wonderful Life and the multiverse. What book lover wouldn’t enjoy the idea of a library that is full of your unlived lives? A point between life and death where you get to experience the choices you never made. It sounded like an interesting opportunity when mixed with Haig’s personal experiences. In the end, I just didn’t engage with it. For one thing, this type of story has been done before and done much better than this. Then there’s the fact that the concept is just so simplistic and the underlying message is laid on so thick.

One of the reasons that I didn’t like Nervous Planet was because Haig’s brand of advice seems to be “if it’s causing you anxiety, don’t do it”. This included working, social media and society as a whole. It just doesn’t seem like a very helpful or doable philosophy. In The Midnight Library, the central message is basically “everything happens for a reason” and there was a distinct lack of nuance. The central figure in the story is Nora, a depressed 35-year-old woman who has reached a low point in her life. She finds herself in the Midnight Library with the ability to live the lives she could have had. There was no real analysis within these alternate realities. Haig’s approach just feels childish and I felt like I was reading a book intended for a much younger reader. The moral of the stories is so heavy-handed that it’s almost laughable. There’s no room for thoughtful conversation here because Haig doesn’t trust his reader to understand the point. So he has to spell it out in really obvious ways.

This whole book is just obvious. You know exactly where this is going from the very beginning and you’re just wasting time getting there. This book should have been about the journey and not the destination but it was the opposite. We didn’t even get to spend a lot of time in Nora’s other lives because we had to reach a certain ending at a certain time. It meant that a lot of it was either over too quickly or just boring. Add to that the fact that the characters lack depth and you find a book that isn’t very engaging. It feels obvious to say this but feeling sorry for a character doesn’t mean you care about them. Yes, I felt sorry that Nora was in the situation she was in and I felt empathy for her. Did I care about her beyond that? Did I know much about her? Not really. She’s such a one-dimensional character. She has so many interests that she’s magically really good at which makes her real Mary Sue material. Do we know much about her personality beyond the depression? No.

The Midnight Library as a concept is interesting and I wonder how it would have worked with another character. After all, there will be some people out there in situations even more miserable than Nora’s who would happily switch their lives for another. We’re currently living in a world where people are choosing between buying food or heating their homes. If we follow Matt Haig’s logic, every other life they could have had would be much worse than these because they are living the life they should be. It just comes back to the lack of nuance. Yet again, Matt Haig has written a book concerning serious mental health issues and come up with a bunch of cheesy platitudes. If this has helped some people then that’s great but I don’t see what this really has to offer in real terms. It’s a cute story with a sweet ending. It was a quick and undemanding read. Other than that, it lacks depth and originality. I really don’t understand why people rave about it so much. 

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