‘The Midnight Library’ by Matt Haig is the best book I read in 2020. And in 2020, l read a lot of books—as many of you under house arrest (read: lockdown) might have. It’s simply the most beautiful book I’ve ever read. I feel like I might have said that about quite a few books (‘A Man Called Ove’ by Fredrick Backman and ‘Revenge’ by Yoko Ogawa, for instance). But then isn’t that how a great book is supposed to make you feel? Like you haven’t read anything as spectacular in your entire life and that this book is the one that will stay on top of your recommendation list forever.
The Midnight Library is about a girl named Nora Seed who feels trapped in her life. She doesn’t have any close friends, her work doesn’t excite her, and she clearly lacks a purpose in life. And then her cat, Voltaire, dies and she’s fired from her job. Nora feels incapable of doing anything right, and unwanted and unloved. After all, she couldn’t even look after a cat. What hope, really, is there for her?
So, without a solid reason to continue living, she decides to end her life. When she wakes up, it is midnight and she is in a ‘library’ of sorts. The library, with tall pillars and stone façade, is apparently a place between life and death. The books in the library are all different versions of Nora’s life. Each book she picks gives Nora a chance to try out another life. Mrs Elm, Nora’s high school librarian who she used to play chess with, is the guardian of this library and she helps Nora find the ‘perfect’ life she is looking for.
We all have regrets; things we wish we had done differently or opportunities we hadn’t let pass. We find ourselves wondering how our lives would have turned out if we had, say, started saving since high school, cultivated better relationships, or chosen a different career. Our natural tendency is to always want what we don’t have and, as a result, we aren’t as happy as we would like to be. This book makes us rethink our values, see the beauty in little things, and be grateful for what we have.
What I really liked about The Midnight Library, apart from the vignettes of Nora’s different lives and Haig’s simple, smooth prose, is how it makes you contemplate your own life and reevaluate how each of your successes as well as failures have shaped you. I was forced to look at events that I always wished I could undo as experiences that have led to many good things in my life today. Reading the book made me celebrate life and be thankful for all its quirks.
The Midnight Library made me happy, revel in the ordinary, and value everything I have a whole lot more. It is, perhaps, everything I have ever wished for in a book.