If you follow me on Instagram stories, you’ll know that I accidentally stayed in bed until lunchtime one day this week reading The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. I’ve read a few Matt Haig books before and I always really enjoy them. He just makes the whole thing so easy. There aren’t those difficult chapters at the beginning where you have to get to know the characters, you never say ‘it took me a while to get into but…’ you’re just THERE, in the story from page one.
The basic premise is that a woman called Nora decides to kill herself, and before she dies she finds herself in the Midnight Library. The library offers her the chance to reflect on her life and her regrets and to try different lives, lives where she’d made different choices.
When I started reading The Midnight Library I figured I knew exactly what was coming – it’s a lesson in living life with no regrets, of not always wishing the grass was greener or imagining what your life might be like if only…
And yes, it is about that – the plot isn’t surprising in that sense – but it’s about something else too, which I’m not sure I had expected or appreciated quite as much.
One of the pivotal moments in the book happens when, in one of her parallel lives, Nora is confronted by a polar bear.
As you might expect, she’s terrified – properly beside herself with fear – but this moment is also the first moment where she realises that she doesn’t want to die, that life might be worth living after all. It’s no coincidence that this strong emotion triggers such a powerful feeling in her, but I’m just not sure I’ve given this enough thought lately.
Other powerful moments in the book happen when Nora is experiencing extreme emotions – love, fear, pride, adoration, strength – they’re feelings at the extremes. The pivotal moments for Nora don’t happen when she’s just CONTENT.
This feels somewhat at odds with a lot of the things we are taught about the pursuit of happiness. We know well by now I think that life isn’t about being blissfully happy all the time, but often this is replaced with the idea of the pursuit of contentment – a low key level of satisfaction that comes from appreciating small things in life, managing our own expectations and generally trying to keep on an EVEN KEEL.
By the end of The Midnight Library though I was left feeling like an even keel doesn’t really cut it.
The lessons than Nora learns from her other lives feel less about letting go of regrets, and more about embracing the whole wide range of emotions of which human beings are capable. What’s more, you don’t have to come face to face with a polar bear to feel them – they’re in you right now, in this life, just waiting to be felt. You don’t need to be famous or rich or medal winning to lead a spectacular life.
When I finished The Midnight Library I wasn’t left wanting a nice sit down on a comfy sofa reading a magazine, as nice as that is – I was left wanting to come face to face with a polar bear, to feel a rush of adrenalin standing up to speak in front of hundreds of people. I wanted to be angry about something, to feel excited, hurt, happy.
It made me realise how, over the last year, cut off from most of my usual activities and social interactions, my range of emotions has shrunk. My word of the year this year is SELF, and I don’t feel like I can be my best self if I’m only experiencing a limited range of feelings.
‘How are you?’ people ask.
‘I’m fine!’ I say. Meaning it.
Life isn’t about being fine though it it? Fine is keeping yourself in check, being cautious, not using your heart and your mind to its full potential. I want more than fine. Fine is the basis of a midlife unravelling. I want thrilling and terrifying.
I want polar bears.*
Have you read The Midnight Library? How did it make you feel? How does LIFE make you feel? Leave a comment and let me know.
Photo by Hans-Jurgen Mager on Unsplash
*I’m sure if I actually came face to face with a polar bear I would NOT want polar bears.
Superb post! Completely agree, feeling all of the feels is being alive even when the tears flow.
Brilliant point . Going to go away and think about that.
This was the first book I finished since the first lockdown – life, work, babies, teaching and all that other stuff has got in the way of my love of reading. I don’t think I could have picked a better book to kick off this year with, definitely makes me want to explore the other what ifs and not regret the things I may have missed in the past.
“His books are YA, but they’re not advertised as YA.” Assuming the errors were somehow removed from the book, do you think you would have felt differently about the book had it been sold to you as a YA title? Would your expectations have changed, and as a result, would your reaction have changed? I think this is a really interesting, really important hypothetical. Reader expectations are HUGELY important to the reading experience, I think.