Roberta Writes – Book Review: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

What Amazon says


‘BEAUTIFUL’ Jodi Picoult, ‘UPLIFTING’ i, ‘BRILLIANT’ Daily Mail, ‘AMAZING’ Joanna Cannon, ‘ABSORBING’ New York Times, ‘THOUGHT-PROVOKING’ Independent

Nora’s life has been going from bad to worse. Then at the stroke of midnight on her last day on earth she finds herself transported to a library. There she is given the chance to undo her regrets and try out each of the other lives she might have lived. Which raises the ultimate question: with infinite choices, what is the best way to live?

My review

Nora Seed is a sad and depressed thirty-something woman who has a multitude of regrets about the choices she made in her life. She feels alienated from her brother and best friend as a result of past decisions that impacted on them as well as herself. She believes that they bear a grudge against her and she is weighted down by a huge burden of guilt. In addition, she feels guilty about breaking off her engagement a short time before the wedding and secretly questions whether she did the right thing.

On the day the story starts, a series of negative events in her personal life push Nora over the edge and she decides to take an overdose of pills and end it all.

Nora wakes up in the “Midnight Library”, a place for souls suspended between life and death. In the Midnight Library, Nora becomes reacquainted with Mrs Elm, the librarian from her days at the local primary school, and a person who gave her a lot of emotional support when she most needed it. Mrs Elm also gave Nora some advice on her future career and life decisions at the time. Mrs Elm’s role in the library is to offer the same sort of counselling and support to Nora as she explores her options prior to the ultimate death or survival of her body. She also points out that if Nora dies, her time in the Midnight Library will end and her ability to make a choice to live will also end.

Mrs Elm explains to Nora that the Midnight Library contains a book of regrets which sets out all of the decisions, big and small, that Nora has made and come to regret at the time of her death. She also points out shelf after shelf of books which all contain different variations of Nora’s ‘core’ life which pivot on a change in her life decisions. There are thousands and thousands of different lives that Nora could have lived, some greatly different from her core life and some not as different, depending on the nature of the life choice made the precipitated the change in direction.

Nora is tasked with trying out different lives until she finds the one she thinks is the ‘perfect’ life for her. When she finds it, she will be able to stay in that life and will eventually assimilate into it.

I enjoyed the Nora’s journey in this book and watching her gradually come to terms with the outcome of her past decisions and how her life could have been different. It was fascinating to watch her realise that there is no real ‘perfect’ life and that every life choice comes with a set of pros and cons which you have to live with. It was also interesting to witness her reaction to the realisation that her life choices impacted on other people around her, not only the major players in her life, but also the smaller players, for example, her elderly neighbour, and a teenage boy she was teaching to play the piano.

I thought it was very clever how the author used the different ‘life’ backgrounds to illustrate these fundamental thoughts about life and it was fun to contemplate all the different variations a single life could take based on decisions and their knock on effects. I really appreciated this book and it has given me food for thought for my own life.

This book has an uplifting ending and is an insightful voyage through the thought processes and emotions of the main character as she comes to terms with her real thoughts about her life.

I have never suffered from depression so I can’t comment on the accuracy with which depression is depicted in this book. The descriptions of the hopelessness instilled by depression and the feeling of not being able to escape your own thoughts and emotions seem well done to me, but I do think that depression isn’t something that could easily be resolved through a realisation of the greater meaning of life. I am of the view that chronic depression is an illness and is very difficult to address. As a result, that part of this book did seem a little white-washed to me and it is the reason I gave the book 4 stars and not 5.

Otherwise, this is a great and through provoking story and I enjoyed it very much. 

A few quotes I enjoyed from this book:

“It is not the lives we regret not living that are the real problem. It is the regret itself. It’s the regret that makes us shrivel and wither and feel like our own and other people’s worst enemy. We can’t tell if any of those other versions would have been better or worse. Those lives are happening, it is true, but you are happening as well, and that is the happening we have to focus on.”

“If you aim to be something you are not, you will always fail. Aim to be you. Aim to look and act and think like you. Aim to be the truest version of you. Embrace that you-ness. Endorse it. Love it. Work hard at it. And don’t give a second thought when people mock it or ridicule it. Most gossip is envy in disguise.”

“Of course, we can’t visit every place or meet every person or do every job, yet most of what we’d feel in any life is still available. We don’t have to play every game to know what winning feels like. We don’t have to hear every piece of music in the world to understand music. We don’t have to have tried every variety of grape from every vineyard to know the pleasure of wine. Love and laughter and fear and pain are universal currencies. We just have to close our eyes and savour the taste of the drink in front of us and listen to the song as it plays. We are as completely and utterly alive as we are in any other life and have access to the same emotional spectrum.”

Purchase The Midnight Library

Amazon US

PS, I’m not crazy about this cover, what do you think of it?

61 thoughts on “Roberta Writes – Book Review: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

    1. Hi Liz, I suppose that would depend on what a reader took from the book. If it was read as a sort of adventure where a person gets to try a whole lot of different takes on their life, then the cover is fine as the ‘library’ would be central to their reading experience. If you take a deeper meaning from it, and view it as the gaining of an understanding that everyone’s life has meaning and importance and impacts on other peoples lives, then the cover seems a little light and misleading.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. It sounds like an interesting premise for a story, though I agree that depression is not so easy to “cure”. I like the cover as an illustration by itself, though it seems not to relate at all to the story, which negates any artistic merit. (K)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Kerfe, this book is quite interesting and I could have waxed more lyrical. I really liked the premise but I could tell it had been written by a man as the approach to the topic of depression was a lot more simple that it would have been if this book had been written my a women (that is my humble opinion, of course). Men generally view things differently to women.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. PS this comment isn’t intended to belittle the man approach in any way, it is just different. I am surrounded by males in my life so I think I see the differences in the thinking approach more clearly than when I lived at home surrounded by 3 sisters.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I haven’t read this book, so can’t comment on its content. I like the colour and fonts of the cover, and the little light over the “i” in “Library.” But I think I would have preferred that blocky shape to be replaced with shelves of books. And is there a cat in the story? A cat or dog on a cover is almost always good.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I loved this book and bought copies for my friends. The wonderful idea of ‘what if?’ is taken to all the different outcomes. I trend to buy a book to read from the reviews or the author, not the cover. ❤ Thanks for your review, Robbie. Xx

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Hi Jane, this is a very good book and I enjoyed it too. I just couldn’t help thinking that a person who suffers from depression would be likely to have bad periods in the future so the condition wouldn’t have been fully remediated even with greater understanding of the meaning of life, but I may be overly complex in my thinking.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I don’t think you are being overly complex in your thinking. My sense was the depression was caused by her life situation diving downwards as she saw it and not by clinical depression. She eat herself up mentally for the choices she had made, seeing them as mistakes, till the library showed her otherwise. ❤

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Harmony, this is a good book and a clever premise. I suppose my thoughts about depression are formed on the basis of family members who battle this mental illness. It comes back so there isn’t a long-term fix for it in my opinion. However, I only mention it because I thought some readers might be sensitive to how this sort of thing is handled in a book.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I loved this book, Robbie, and your review described it perfectly, also aligned with my thoughts. I think the cover is fine, but “fine” to me can also mean a bit underwhelming. The story itself was clever and definitely offered food for thought.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. The end result of serious depression is generally how the book starts. All the warm fuzzies in the world won’t help because the people they are put forth for don’t care, can’t see them. They are intent on themselves and their own demise and there’s not an expert in the world who knows why. Unless somehow, they’ve been to the precipice and retreated. Example. 50 year old woman, depressed (for no obvious known cultural or sociological reasons) since childhood, lives in a postcard in Southern California, could throw a ball into an azure ocean from her deck. Two not quite teen kids. Unlocks the gun safe, calls her sister a continent away and says “I’m doing it.” BAM. Did do it by the pool so the kids didn’t come home to a messy house. This book lives in what we assume is the space between unlocking the gun safe and BAM. But we will never know.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. HI PHil, yes, that is how this book starts and the author’s way of leading the protagonist to discovering the value of life is very interesting and entertaining. Your example is very tragic, how awful for those two kids. People don’t realise the impact of suicide on their families. Thanks for adding your thoughts on this topic.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you, Robbie, for sharing your in-depth review of “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig. The use of the Midnight Library containing a book of past regrets is an interesting premise for self-reflection.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Thank you for an excellent books review Robbie. You have a talent for providing just enough information that ignites a potential reader’s curiosity and then sends them off to locate the book in their libraries or Amazon/Kobo. I enjoyed The Midnight Library as well, especially since it centered on a library, for what is our lives, but another story to be added to a bookshelf. The symbolism of midnight was powerful – the transition between states of being. Depression is more common than people think. It is the leading cause of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease (WHO) Many people don’t recognize that they are experiencing depression. The good news is that more people are writing and talking about it, which leads to a better understanding.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Rebecca, I am pretty sure I decided to read this book based on a discussion with you. I have read a few other reviews of it as well. I agree that depression has much wider acknowledgement as a real mental health issue now. When I was at school, people would think you were ridiculous if you said you felt depressed. You needed to ‘buck up and get over it.” This is a clever story and very entertaining.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. This book sounds fascinating, Robbie, and I’ve heard lots of good things about it. It has a powerful message too. I love it when fiction does that. I liked your sensitive thoughts on depression and how you weighed the book from that perspective. I’m of both minds, having known people who are chronically or physically depressed, as well as people who respond well to a cathartic mental shift. I think you’re right to provide some caution there. Thanks for your review!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Diana, you are exactly right, some people suffer the ‘blues’ due to poor circumstances or because of the season, but others are chronically depressed and that is a different ball park. This book is very interesting and I enjoyed it very much. I took the depression point a little personally because I have family members who suffer from chronic depression.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. It sounds like a good book. I immediately thought of another book called The Library Book by Susan Orlean. The one you’ve presented is much lighter – a totally different take on the library. I agree with you about the cover, BTW. I like D’s comment about being cautious about depression. I have never suffered from it, but I’ve known those who have. It can be hard to treat and the treatments (medicines) can have some terrible side effects. Without medication, though, some people can’t make it each day. We all get depressed from time to time from circumstances, and that kind of depression can benefit from a distraction or other simple exercise.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I did not enjoy this book as much as I expected to, but perhaps all the hype made me expect more from it than I ought to. I found the different lives interesting, and certainly found the ending solid, but overall it is not a book I would read again. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hi Robbie – great review. I’ve been wanting to read The Midnight Library for about a year. I agree with you that there is no simple aha moment that cures depression. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. HI Barbara, I put that comment in about the cure for depression as a warning for people who might be suffering from depression. I don’t so it doesn’t really concern me, but I know from experience with family members that depression is an illness and not something that is easily addressed.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi Robbie – it’s me again 😉 I have been wondering about the “Sponsored Content” notification from OutBrain that I’m seeing at the bottom of a lot of bloggers’ posts (but not all of them). Is that something you arranged or is WordPress doing that? It’s very discreet which is much better than the ads I sometimes see on blogs. I’m wondering if this is a way to monetize a blog?

    Liked by 2 people

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