I think most of us at one time or another wonder what our life would have been like if we had made a different choice...
What would have happened if I had taken that job?
Where would I be if I had said yes instead of no or no instead of yes?
Who would I have married if I had not gone to that party?
The midnight library is about how different choices, even small ones lead to different lives. It is a bit of A Wonderful Life meets Sliding Doors. (If you haven't seen the 1998 movie Sliding Doors staring Gwyneth Paltrow, I highly recommend it.)
The first eight very short chapters cover the losses in Nora Seed's life, which is pretty much in shambles. Her cat dies. She loses her job. She's broke and behind in her rent. She's lost contact with her best friend and her brother. She is lonely, seriously depressed and decides to end her life.
It's kind of a downer beginning of a book. but hang in there. In chapter 9 everything turns. "The misty vapors cleared, like spirits wanting to be unwatched, and a shape appears." She's not in heaven. She's not in hell. She's in a library.
The library is an in-between place. It is the container of parallel universes. Every book on the infinite number of shelves represents a different life Nora might have had. There to help Nora is her high school librarian Mrs. Elm. Nora gets to try on different lives before making the final decision to permanently end her life.
What I loved most about this book is how I thought about it for days. I kept thinking about the choices I have made, both big and small and how those decisions changed the trajectory of my life. Nora Seed's other lives were not all happiness and good times. Sometimes she was rich. Sometimes she was poor. Once she was an Olympian swimmer. Another time a rock star. In some lives she had a family. In other lives she was single. There was loss and sadness in each of them, but the tragedies are balanced by the unlimited possibilities.
The author, Matt Haig suffered severe depression as a young adult. He is known for his memoir "Reasons to Stay Alive." In many ways this novel is a guide for moving from depression and anxiety to a celebration of life.