Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library is a novel that gets to the heart of the modern person’s struggle with perspective. Nora is living on her own, teaching piano to one student and working as a sales assistant in a music shop. On one day, a set of experiences from her cat dying to her student dropping out of lessons cause her fragile existence to come crashing down around her. By the end of the novel, it is clear that this is the perfect illustration of how stepping outside of our existence for just a moment can often show us that things aren’t quite as bad as they seem.
Nora decides to take an overdose as she truly believes that, at that moment, nobody cares about her or needs her to exist anymore. The magic of the novel is where this suicide attempt takes her. She arrives in a library, giving her the possibility to live through any of an infinite number of her potential lives kept in the books around her. In each of the existences that she tries, Nora arrives with the knowledge and skills that she had in her original life, which has some comical and awkward repercussions. There is one book in the library that houses all of her regrets and this book generates the curiosity needed to try the others.
She tries a life as a professional swimmer, one where she married her ex-boyfriend and another where she went to live in Australia with her best friend. In each of these lives, Nora sees how all of the relationships with her family change and how her mental wellbeing fluctuates. As she starts to experience the lives in which she lives out something her current self regrets, the regrets in the book slowly disappear. Nora establishes that there is no ideal and perfect life waiting to be lived. Even in the life she spends the most time in and wants to stay with, she realises how much of an impact she had in her original life.
Without spoiling the ending, this novel has an immensely important lesson for all readers about valuing the smaller things in life and not underestimating your own impact on others. It sounds cheesy, but we do all have quiet admirers that we are unaware of: just smiling at a passerby in the street can change their mood and brighten their day. The key message from this novel is presenting Western societies’ impression of success – having a career and becoming wealthy, having a family, buying a house and a car – as false. Matt Haig does an excellent job of shattering this idea – the only truly important things in your life are your interpersonal relationships and interactions with others.