British author, Matt Haig, is an advocate for mental health awareness. This advocacy informs his novel The Midnight Library as he delves into real life struggles with depression through a fictional world with infinite choices. His midnight library is the space between life and death. In this magical library, time stops, allowing a person to take a journey through alternating life choices and to try out other lives.
Nora, the main character, suffers from depression and wants to die. On the night she tries to overdose, she wakes up in the midnight library with a number of alternate lives to choose from. The library’s shelves contain thousands of books that allow her the opportunity to confront her regrets and imagine possible futures. Nora’s discoveries in the midnight library kindle her desire to stay alive: “Who knows? Every second of every day we are entering a new universe. And we spend so much time wishing our lives were different, comparing ourselves to other people and to other versions of ourselves, when really most lives contain degrees of good and degrees of bad.”
In one possible life, she ends up married to a long time boyfriend, Dan, but the story does not have the rosy outcome she imagined. Another possible life where she is an Olympic swimmer also includes a terrible future for her parents. A future life as a rock star with a movie star boyfriend is shockingly lonely. These surprises from her possible lives influence Nora’s awareness and her wish to live: “To be a part of nature was to be part of the will to live. When you stay too long in a place, you forget just how big an expanse the world is…But once you sense the vastness, once something reveals it, hope emerges, whether you want it to or not, and it clings to you as stubbornly as lichen clings to rock.”
In The Midnight Library, Nora has the opportunity to undo her regrets and rediscover her will to live. Her journey pushes us to reflect on our own highs and lows. I loved the way Haig encapsulates a life lesson in stories about the “road not taken”. As inspiration, Haig cites the words of Henry David Thoreau: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
The Midnight Library will be available on 9/29/20 in the U.S.