Trigger warnings: depression, suicide, anxiety, drug abuse, alcoholism, addiction
Nora Seed has had enough of life, and the news that her beloved cat has died has tipped her over the edge. As the clock strikes midnight, she attempts to end her life but quickly finds herself in The Midnight Library. Here, she is given the chance to experience all the lives she could have lived had she made just one different choice somewhere along the line. But Nora soon realises that the results of these decisions aren’t quite as plain-sailing as she would have expected…
I wanted to love this book so badly. I have seen Matt Haig raved about all over bookstagram since I joined little over a year ago, so when the time came to spend my monthly Audible credit I leapt at the chance to listen to The Midnight Library and finally experience his wisdom. To say I was disappointed would be a complete understatement.
The ending of this book was entirely predictable: I had guessed exactly how it would end within the first twenty minutes of listening, however this was not my main issue. In this context I didn’t mind a predictable story, I was more interested in the exploration of mental health and this is what ended up being my main source of disappointment.
Whilst I appreciate the message that Matt Haig was trying to convey (that a change in outlook can entirely alter how you feel about your life, and yes, it very well can in some situations), I thought he gave an incredibly privileged and basic take on the issues that contribute to poor mental health.
Nora is a very average woman with a roof over her head, enough money in the bank to pay her bills and put food on the table, and a fairly comfortable life on the face of things. I do not intend to discount her feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and grief – I know how isolating these feelings can be and how they can lead to some incredibly dark places. My problem with The Midnight Library arises from the almost patronising view that ‘if you change the way you look at things they will get better’ implied in the narrative. There are so many factors that contribute to poor mental health that cannot simply be ‘fixed’ by looking at a situation differently, and I felt that this moral conclusion was very privileged indeed.
To translate this into a real life example, for the sake of argument: a single mother who cannot afford childcare but is also unable to leave her children to go to work and earn money would not be able to alter her bleak situation by just changing the way she looks at it, and to be told to do so would most likely make her feel even worse than she does already. The Midnight Library, which begins to feel almost like a self-help manual half way through, completely disregards this kind of situation, which left me feeling uncomfortable with its overall message.
Some other issues I had with this book included the fact that there was very little depth to most of the characters, and that Nora had absolutely no recollection or knowledge of her situation in each life she found herself in. The fact that she was expected to jump into a life with no idea of her friends’ names, where she was, her job, etc. was increasingly more frustrating with each new life she experienced – the novelty of this wore off very quickly.
The Midnight Library has such a fantastic premise, but is so poorly executed that I feel all the good intentions have been lost along the way. I certainly don’t feel inclined to read any of his other work after finding myself so disappointed in this one. That being said, I know many people have found comfort in his books and for those of you who have, I hope you are able to continue to do so.