The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

J. L. Harland • January 12th, 2021

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig is built on an unusual and original concept. Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction 2020, it was recently serialised for Radio Four.

'The Midnight Library’ takes us on the journey of the main character, Nora Seed, from a point of suicidal despair through the experience of choosing possible lives for herself to a final reconciliation.

A number one Sunday Times best seller, thought-provoking and charming, it seems fitting this novel was published in the summer months of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The story is both very serious and very funny, ranging from the abstract and philosophical to the small, mundane details of everyday life. It has a clever and intricate structure starting with a countdown to the main character, Nora’s, suicide and then branching off through the mysteries of the ‘midnight library’ into the lives she might lead if she’d made different choices.

In the character of Nora Seed, Matt Haig captures the tone and contemporary language of a thirty-something woman living in an unextraordinary city, Bedford, while experiencing the extraordinary possibility of trying out different lives to find the best one. Time itself is mysterious as we travel on the journey with Nora. But, as it unravels, we find out about Nora’s brother, parents and grandparents, following her internal change as she gradually gains understanding about herself. And time is running out. Her body lies waiting between life and death.

An erudite novel, involving aspects of philosophy, literature, politics and social science, in the manner of Saint-Exupéry, with expositions, if not diatribes, by Nora, Mrs Elm, the midnight librarian, and other characters, such as the ‘sliders’, who live perpetually between lives. Mingled with this is comedy arising from the fact that often Nora is parachuted into a situation where she doesn’t know what is going on; and where the other characters are puzzled by her odd responses. Then, there is the polar bear episode…

Based on quests and the picaresque, the novel ends in as elegant a way as it is structured: with a game of chess.

The Midnight Library is published by Canongate Books. Matt Haig is author of several bestselling books and has been translated into over 40 languages.

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