Thursday, March 18, 2021

The Midnight Library: When All the Books Are Your Story

 I don't think I'm the only reader who finds herself drawn to books with "library" or "bookstore" in the title--and there are plenty. My next month's book club read is The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles, but this week, I finished The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, which has a most unusual library.

As the book opens, the protagonist Nora is having more than a bad day. As the narrator reveals, hours before Nora wants to die, her cat Voltaire is found dead, her boss at String Theory lets her go, and she learns her brother was in town without letting her know. Her attempt to take her own life turns out differently from the nothingness she may have anticipated. Instead, she finds herself in an unusual library, staffed by Mrs. Elm, the high school librarian who had been kind to her. Nora learns that every book, all green, is the story of a life she might have lived, had she made a single different choice.

Mrs. Elm gives Nora a look at the book of her regrets--a painful experience--and then facilitates her book choices that let her explore all the roads not taken: What if she had not quit competitive swimming? What if she hadn't left the Labyrinth, the band she had started with her brother Joe and his friend Ravi? What if she hadn't called off her wedding just days before while grieving over her mother's death? Indeed, what if she had become a glaciologist?

Haig deftly creates suspense for the reader as he places Nora in her alternate lives--in medias res--with no idea what has happened to this version of her days even minutes before she enters the scene. She learns to pick up clues to her life, often causing those closest to her to assume she has some kind of memory problem. The concept around which the novel is built, the butterfly effect, may not be a totally new idea in literature, but Haig delivers an entertaining and thought-provoking novel that suggests that there is no perfect life. Life, at its best, is messy.


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