Review: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Exploring ‘what might have been’ should make good fiction.

Charles Dickens made Scrooge a better man just by showing him who he was, and what his fate would be if he continued to be the person he is. In the movie It’s A Wonderful Life,  kind hearted George Bailey gets to experience how depressing his home town would be if he never lived.

In the 1987 film, Julia and Julia, starring Kathleen Turner, the protagonist slips back and forth between two versions of her life. One where her husband is dead so she succumbs to a steamy affair, and the other where her husband is very much alive and she has a family. Captain Picard suffers a similar fate, going back and forward in time, in the two part finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

All of the above explore this concept well.

And then there’s Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library.  This book was recommended to me by an author friend because these are themes I like to explore.

The Midnight Library eBook by Matt Haig - EPUB | Rakuten Kobo Australia

At first I was really into this book. It’s presented in a childlike way, telling rather than showing. Often over explaining, but I got used to this style until I just wanted to be treated like an adult again.

Nora Seed is at a crossroad in her life and ends up at The Midnight Library. Here she gets to explore the lives she could have led if she made other choices. Her father wanted her to be an Olympic swimmer and she lives this reality for a period of time. In another, she continues as the lead singer in her brother’s band; an outcome with its own set of circumstances.

All this is interesting for most of the novel.

But because of it’s simplistic storytelling style, Nora’s other lives stop being intriguing in the last quarter of the book. There is no momentum in the tale to drive us to the conclusion we already guessed quite early. She just keeps living different lives.

I wish this was written in first person. After all, this third person narrative is completely from Nora’s point of view. Understanding her confusion and her regrets on a deeper level is what I craved for.

There is early talk of this story becoming a movie.

This will work well as a film because we will know Nora a lot better than we do now. Her lived experience will be more accessible, because at the moment she only goes through the motions.

When I finished this novel, I realised I had read another of Haig’s books. That other one also left me cold because the main showdown between two main characters was resolved too conveniently.

Haig has good ideas. I just wish he found better ways to tell his stories.

Three stars.

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