All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Midnight Library (audiobook) by Matt Haig

on March 9, 2022

The Midnight Library
Matt Haig
Narrated by Carey Mulligan
Penguin Audio
2020, 9hrs 9m
Free monthly book via Audible.com

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices . . . Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?”

A dazzling novel about all the choices that go into a life well lived, from the internationally bestselling author of Reasons to Stay Alive and How To Stop Time.

Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s enchanting new novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

I have heard quite a lot about this book since it was released. It seems to be quite divisive – people either love it, or they really really do not. It was a free Audible book one month last year not long before I cancelled my subscription I think so I’ve had it sitting in my library for a little while. Having listened to a David Attenborough audiobook recently, I have found that my enthusiasm for them has increased again and I picked this one from the un-listened to books in my Audible library to try.

Nora is mid-30s and is not having a good time of it. She loses her job, is estranged from her brother, cancelled her wedding mere days before it was due to take place, lost her dad as a teen and her mother died after an illness several years ago. When her cat dies, it’s kind of the last straw for her. So much has happened and Nora finds herself completely overwhelmed with sadness and despair and makes the decision that she doesn’t want to live anymore. Instead she finds herself in the Midnight Library, filled with books and every one of those books, is an opportunity. A chance for her to live a different life, based on one thing she might’ve done differently. Not cancelled her wedding, for example. Or given up swimming as a teenager when she was predicted to be an Olympics prospect.

I think we can all relate to this a little. I’m sure everyone out there has had the thought of “what might my life have been like, if I didn’t do X or if I’d done Y instead”. I know I have many times. Every decision we make alters the path of our life just a little and the chance to see what might have happened if we changed some decisions, is fascinating. The idea is that if Nora finds the perfect life, a life she desperately wants, she needs only think that and it will be so. But if she finds herself disappointed in the life she is “trying”, she will fade out of it, back to the Midnight Library to try again.

I actually really enjoyed this. I felt really sorry for Nora in the opening scenes, where she relates some of the things that have recently happened and the learning of the death of her cat. For her, it’s the last straw in just, a lot of things. For Nora, I think that the death of Volts, her cat, is the thing that makes her realise that if she were to disappear, not exist anymore, who would care? Who would notice? Her family is gone or she is estranged from them. She’s lost her job. She has no partner, her best friend is half a world away and they don’t really talk anymore. Volts was the creature that depended on her for his existence and now that he is gone…..what is there for her?

Nora tries many lives, she becomes many things. She experiences heady success in several different fields, she has marriages (some of which are happy, others that are seemingly not). She lives lives where she helps others try and realise their dreams. And in each life, she finds that her choices still have impacts. Nothing is perfect. She can’t seem to find that perfect life and there are several slight…flaws in this plot, which means that it is going to be very difficult for Nora to find one in this manner. Firstly she drops into the life with no prior knowledge of it after she made the choice that led to it, so she is in some circumstances, married to a man she doesn’t know or has a child she’s never seen before. It’s very difficult to embrace a life you partially don’t remember. And also, disappointment is a part of life. You can experience dissatisfaction or disappointment at times in your life and it’s still an amazing life. BUT this kind of exists for a reason within the story, helping Nora to see what life is really for her, I guess.

Are the messages sometimes a little heavy handed? Yes, probably. In order to “leave” the Midnight Library, Nora has to realise something and realise it before something else happens in her “original life” her root life, I think the book refers to it as. And at times it does feel like it hammers home a few things with the subtlety of a sledgehammer but to be honest, it didn’t really bother me. The way that Nora is in the book, she needs to have these things repeated, she has to understand things about her root life and what it means if it never happened.

I found this really easy to listen to although the narrator is a little bit flat at times in a way. It’s a book with quite a lot of emotion (it made me cry in the very early part of it) and despair and at times I felt that was reflected but the further I got in the book, the less I noticed it/heard it. And maybe that was my reaction to it too, but it did feel a bit monotone at times. But apart from that (and also the way the narrator pronounced grasshopper when doing an Australian accent) I really enjoyed the audio experience.

This was a lovely book to read, I enjoyed Nora’s journey learning a lot of things about herself and choices and does the perfect life even exist? And if it does, is it the life we want? I’d definitely like to read some more Matt Haig.

8/10

Book #55 of 2022

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2 responses to “Review: The Midnight Library (audiobook) by Matt Haig

  1. I’m so happy to see this book here and that you enjoyed it! I’ve recently done a giveaway for it, but I’ve not read it yet, I hope to get to it soon!

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