Review The Midnight Library

The book of pune conducted Midnight Library Author: Matt Haig on sunday 16 Jan 2022 presenter was Mohini Khot.

Recording for those who missed the program can see again below :

Review by Sheena Shahani

Once more, we had a marvellous presentation from a consummate storyteller who can enrapture her audience without sounding pedantic.  Dr. Mohini Khot’s recap of The Midnight Library captured the essence and the magic of this novel and held us in thrall throughout the session.

The Midnight Library is a 2020 work of fiction by New York Times bestselling British author Matt Haig. In this novel, Haig addresses ponderable topics such as choices, opportunities and perceptions, through the protagonist, Nora Seed, who attempts suicide and must explore what it means to live while in the grey area in between life and death. The genre is of the speculative fiction variety, exploring a barrage of ‘what if…’ scenarios. The book is also interspersed with philosophical thoughts from Sylvia Plath, Thoreau and Robert Frost about life along the way.

“This book is about choices – life is a series of choices: some choices are moment-defining, others are life-defining,” said Dr. Khot, in her preamble to the plot summary. Then, in thriller documentary narration style, she proceeded to countdown events leading to Nora Seed’s attempted suicide.

Prologue: Nora Seed, a 15-year-old schoolgirl, and a swimming champion, will attempt suicide 19 years later. The Prologue takes place in her school library, where Nora learns from the librarian Mrs. Elm that Nora’s father has just died from a heart attack. Mrs. Elm comforts a grieving Nora.

Fast forward 19 years: Nora is now in her mid-thirties, residing and working in a commonplace town as a saleswoman in a music store, and stuck in a dull, lonely life.

Twenty-seven hours before she decided to die, her cat dies outside the apartment. Thinking that she could have prevented the death of her pet, she feels upset and guilty, but what is disconcerting is that she is envious of the look of peace in the cat’s expression.

The next day, nine and a half hours before she decided to die, she is made redundant.

And so on, nine hours, eight hours, seven hours, five hours before she decided to die, she continues to get very dismal thoughts.

In the last two days, she has had so many setbacks. She comes to know that her estranged brother visits town but ignores her, and her only music pupil, Leo, cancels his lessons.

She considers herself useless and unwanted; she spirals into depression, has a regret overload, and has lost the will to live. She writes a suicide note and overdoses on pills and wine. This is around midnight.

Like Alice in Wonderland, Nora wakes up in a strange environment – a building filled with books and, to her surprise, a librarian who is the spitting image of Mrs. Elm. Nora soon realises that she is in an in-between state, hovering between life and death. She is in The Midnight Library, a massive, interminable place with innumerable aisles and shelves laden with books – all having jackets in different shades of green. The heftiest book in that library is Nora’s book of regrets.

“The basic premise here is, that if you want to live, the library will exist, Mrs Elm tells her, and keep giving you chances,” said Dr Khot.

Nora must use this library to find a life worth living before she dies. Each book represents a different choice, and therefore a different life. The minute she feels that that alternative life is not suitable for her, she is transported back into the library.

Nora experiences many alternate lives, based on her regrets, including one in which she marries Dan, one in which she and her brother Joe are a musical success, one in which she marries a kind soul named Ash, one in which she joins her bestie Izzy to work in Australia, one in which she sticks with swimming and becomes rich and successful, and one in which she pursues glaciology. With each life, Nora learns a little more about herself and the meaning of life. But she always returns to the library because something in that life is not for her. It’s not until Nora comes face-to-face with a polar bear intent on killing her that she realises she has wanted to live this entire time.

Though Nora learns a valuable lesson about life, she still has a lot to figure out. It is now clear that the best life for her to live is her real life. With this knowledge, she must make it out of The Midnight Library before it crumbles and, back in her life on Earth, and survive her attempted suicide. As the book ends, she overcomes her overdose and then sets about experiencing her life with a newfound appreciation of what it means to live and be more mindful and accountable of her choices.

To conclude with an excerpt from Haruki Murakami’s short story Birthday Girl: “No matter what they wish for, no matter how far they go, people can never be anything but themselves. That’s all.”

Recommendations made during the discussion for further reading/watching/research: The Art of Choosing (book) by Sheena Iyengar; It’s a Wonderful Life (1946 Frank Capra film); Designing Your Life (Stanford University course).

Nityaasha Foundation