Book Review: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
I'm apparently the only person on the planet who didn't love this 2020 book. Everyone is talking about it and cherishing it in their book clubs and I'm texting my reading friends, "Am I broken? I thought it was meh." The premise is cool. Kind of an "It's a Wonderful LIfe" or "Christmas Carol" turned on its head. The protagonist is an English woman (the audio book is narrated by Carey Mulligan) whose parents have long since passed, who lives alone in a crappy apartment, her cat just died, she recently lost her unfulfilling music shop job and ended her engagement, and she feels like she's loathed by her best friend and brother (with whom she was formerly in a band). As she blames herself for everything going to shit and marinates in regret and isolation, she decides to end her life. As she lays dying, her subconscious goes to a "midnight library" where the figment of her elementary school librarian shows her a heavy book of her regrets and thousands of other books- each which offers an alternative life storyline had she made a different decision along the way. She experiences what it would have been like to be an internationally lauded rock star, to have become an arctic explorer, to have married her ex-fiance and owned a village pub, etc. She spends months and months (really minutes) living different lives, trying to find the one that fits her best, where she doesn't long for anything else, where she most wants to LIVE instead of leave. Some are horrible- the butterfly effect offers relief from some pain and brings other miserable surprise consequences, and some are lovely...eventually she decides (obviously, yawn) that the life she most wants to live, and YES SHE DOES WANT TO LIVE, is her real life, with the dead cat and crappy apartment, and that when she goes back and asks for help, she'll find it, and when she is eager to live, she'll find better opportunities, and when she gives them the chance, her best friend and brother were really just dealing with their own stuff, not ghosting her because they hated her.
There are SOLID lessons here. I love the message....I just didn't FEEL anything from the writing. It felt trite or superficial or something, even though it was addressing devastating, deep things.I should have been rocked, but I wasn't moved. This character could have connected for me in a big way- depression, anxiety, questioning life choices, feeling lost and lonely- but I just didn't feel like she was real, I couldn't get into her head. I don't know. It all felt too sterile and formulaic, predictable, and, in the end, preachy. Like the whole thing could have been a schlocky inspirational poster.
Maybe other people read it and imagine other versions of their own lives and realize that the one they're in is worth living- this is clearly Haig's goal, and (presumably minus the fantasy library), his personal story. He literally wrote a 2016 book called "Reasons to Stay Alive," and it is definitely a noble pursuit to convince readers to choose life over death. Maybe I'm in a good place and already convinced I'm living the life I should be, there and that's why The Midnight Library just didn't hit for me. Or maybe it could have been done with more rawness and finesse and depth and I would have liked it more. Dunno. Over two million readers bought it and reviewed it well, so there you go. I haven't read it yet, but Haig also wrote the book "A Boy Called Christmas," that became a WONDERFUL Netflix movie, so I'm open to trying more of his stuff for sure.
If you've read The Midnight Library- what are your thoughts?