The Midnight Library: A Book Review

The Midnight Library: A Book Review

Jasmine Washington

“You don’t have to understand life, you just have to live.” – Matt Haig, The Midnight Library 

Trigger warning: this novel deals with depression, suicide, and mature content. If these topics make you uncomfortable in any way, this may not be the read for you. However, there are millions of other books in the world for you to find and love!

If you had the chance to redo every regret you’ve ever made, would you take it? If you could go back in time and change the things that you regret, would you, or would you leave everything the same? These are the questions Nora is faced with as The Midnight Library begins. 

Nora has had it with living. There have been many missed lives she could’ve lived, and so many people she’s let down. This book already starts by telling readers that Nora is thinking about ending her life. The countdown for when she finally plans to end her life begins after she is told that her cat died. Already suffering from severe situational depression, Nora’s day continues to get worse as she’s reminded of the mistakes she has made.

When Nora takes her life, she’s expecting the end to be nothing. But somehow, she ends up in a place called The Midnight Library. In this library, her old librarian from college is there, and she welcomes Nora. Confused and lost, Nora tries to tell her old librarian that she doesn’t want to be supposedly in between life and death like the elderly woman says she is. Nora continues to debate that she just wants to die, though the librarian doesn’t take her response. Nora is handed her book of regrets, a large book that weighs her down immensely.

Nora is told that the library around her will remain as long as she does. The librarian’s job is to rid Nora of her regrets and worries so she can truly decide if she wants to go into the afterlife. Nora is still shocked by the events, but she agrees to do what the elderly woman asks of her. Nora goes through the largest regrets in her life, ranging from becoming a glaciologist, continuing her music career with her brother, swimming to make her father happy, and deciding to ditch her boyfriend and go on a date with a kinder man. 

As readers follow Nora through the possibilities she could’ve had, we always find ourselves back at the library. Regardless of how happy Nora may seem in life, she returns to the library to open up another life she could’ve lived. Towards the end of the novel, Nora thinks she has found life for her. She believes that she’s finally content, and loves her daughter and the man she married. Nora feels that everything is right in this life, but soon she’s back in the Midnight Library. 

Nora is frustrated and angry, but she’s come to the conclusion – in multiple lives – that she doesn’t want to die. When her decision is made to keep living, the library falls apart, taking the elderly librarian with it. Nora has to open up another one of the books in the library and write her own path, the story she’ll decide to follow instead of going back to what she could’ve had. I got goosebumps when the library was about to collapse on her and Nora restarted her life by writing, “I AM ALIVE.” 

When she wakes back up in her apartment where the story left off in the beginning, she’s taken to the hospital. Nora makes promising efforts, saying she wants to live and is accepting the mistakes she’ll have along the way. She even reunites with her brother, someone who, previous to Nora’s attempted suicide, hadn’t been on the greatest terms with her. Nora finally decides that while her life isn’t anywhere near perfect, she’s made mistakes, and that’s okay. Her regrets from the past don’t need to weigh down her future.

Overall, I really enjoyed this read. Although I found it to be pretty slow-paced at the beginning, I liked the climax of the novel and Nora’s realization of her regrets in life. I think it’s a great way to remind people that mistakes are inevitable, and so are regrets, but this doesn’t mean you need to fail because of it. Nora realizes the little things in her life that are good, and how different of an individual she would’ve been had she lived her life for someone else. 

In terms of ratings, The Midnight Library received a 4.2 out of 5 stars on Goodreads, a 4.4 out of 5 stars on Barnes and Noble, and a 4.6 out of 5 on Audible. This novel was even considered so great that it was nominated for both the Goodreads and Audie choice award for fiction. The Midnight Library was awarded Goodreads Choice Awards Best Fiction in 2020, and I feel that it rightfully deserves this award. The book had many great lessons to pass on to its readers, and it’s also a short, entertaining, and easy read. 

Here’s what readers from Goodreads had to say about the book:

Emily (Books with Emily Fox) rated the book 5 out of 5 stars. In her review of The Midnight Library, she said, “This book was heartbreaking and unputdownable. My main regret is starting it late at night because I had to wait until the next day to finish it! The writing was beautiful and hit almost too close for comfort. I can’t recommend it enough!” 

Jessia rated the book 4 out of 5 stars. Her review began with another quote from The Midnight Library, then she went into what the story meant to her. “Quietly profound and deeply meaningful,” Jessia wrote. “Very ‘the five people you meet in heaven’ with a magical, bookish feel. Perfect for anyone who has ever wondered if their life is enough.” 

And Kevin Kuhn rated the book 4 out of 5 stars. In his review, he wrote, “This is an enjoyable book, it’s my first by Matt Haig, but it won’t be my last. It’s a book about recognizing all the possibilities of your life, but it’s more about letting go  the regrets of what you could have been.” 

So, if you’re looking for a book that’ll test your perspective in a very philosophical way, I highly recommend The Midnight Library. There’s nothing better than being with a character who seems like they’re at their wits end and then watching them grow and discover the good things around them without the help of another individual or romantic partner. Nora’s story of choosing to live was about her, and I loved how Matt Haig’s own personal experience with Nora’s mental illness truly made the story more authentic and beautiful to read. 

“If you aim to be something you’re not, you will always fail. Aim to be you…the truest version of you.” – Matt Haig, The Midnight Library 

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