Matt Haig has written both fact and fiction over recent years, but has perhaps been best known for his coverage of mental health in Reasons To Stay Alive and Notes On A Nervous Planet. What he has managed to master in his latest book, The Midnight Library, is to cover both mental health and a good quality work of fiction in one book. TW for suicide.
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.
This book gave me such a range of emotions throughout. I was immediately drawn to Nora as a character, both because I could relate to her through mental health experiences, and because of the way she was written. Endearing and vividly real, it’s impossible to not feel for her as she reaches a point of utter desperation. As she explores the other lives she might lead, you watch her learn more about herself, undoing all those regrets that held her so firmly in their grasp.
Although accessing it via the most traumatic of experiences, what Nora has the option to do is something that so many people would benefit from, were it real. To question what would really make them happy, to come into their own, and to see, vitally, how needed they really are in the world. There will always be things that hold us in place – but not, as Nora finds out, does that always mean we are being held back.
Nora experiences it all, from utter poverty to utter fame, and still she struggles to find the ‘it’ that she is looking for in life. This, though, is a reassurance for Nora and for us as the reader; to know that everyone struggles, to know that sometimes there isn’t a magic wand, and that even with being given a choice of lives, there is sometimes simply the reality of mental health, and being faced with ourselves.
I would recommend this book to anyone, but, having read it on a particularly bleak day with my own mental health issues, I would offer both comfort and warning with the recommendation. The mentions of suicide and references to self harm are balanced enough to not be too vivid, but with attempted suicide being a central moment of the book, it does matter that you take care of your mental health.
With Suicide Prevention Day having been this week, I wanted to just add a note about self care. I found this book helpful, but if you feel you might be too wobbly to read about suicide right now, then leave it for another time. Suicide is never a sign of weakness, and having contemplated it says nothing about you as a person, other than that life is difficult.