Why The Midnight Library is an Existential Classic

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Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library was easily one of my favourite books of 2020 – beaten out for Book of the Year by Heidi James’ utterly impeccable The Sound Mirror.

Why no review then, I hear you ask?

Well, the back end of 2020 was a tough time for this purveyor of bookish reviews – my first child was born, which is obviously far more important. Plus, after a long day in a stressful new job, I barely had time for writing.

Consider this gushing article a present atonement for my lack of a review.

So, what is The Midnight Library actually about?

Nora Seed, our protagonist, is done with life.

Not in a ‘whew, what a bad day – time for a bath, bottle of wine, and a book’ kind of done with life, but a depressive spiralling into suicidal thoughts.

And Nora actually succeeds in killing herself.

It’s a depressing premise, for sure. 

However, like most of Matt Haig’s writing, a remarkably prescient insight into a person’s mental health struggles runs throughout the book. 

Haig knows that not all depressives are made the same; we all possess various quirks and triggers, plus we’re all different people harbouring wildly varying life experiences.

But where Haig finds a commonality is through the Midnight Library itself.

Upon death, Nora finds herself in a library. A library packed full of her life experiences in books, all branching into various future realities depending on the decisions she made.

In short, she’s offered another chance at life by the librarian of the Midnight Library. Nora can pick as many books as she wants, experiencing these separate realities, hopping across lives that have been and could be, before being offered the option to settle into a satisfactory, preferable life.

This idea – the ability to rewrite decisions made – is what unites depressives.

Looking back is the nature of the beast when it comes to depression. We’ve all stopped and pondered the consequences of decisions made – both macro and micro – wondering whether we’d be more content if only X had happened, or if one hadn’t let go of a friend at a certain point in time.

The Midnight Library taps into the ifs, buts, and maybes that plague one’s life – allowing the reader to play out their fantasy of rewriting the past through Nora’s own experiences. 

What is the central message of The Midnight Library?

Haig’s novel is a beautiful, yet sombre exploration of the oh-so-familiar ennui of anxiety, depression, and memory that many face at various points in their lives.

But it’s not all angst. There’s an enduring message inside this book too:

'Carpe Diem'

Carpe diem isn’t just an excellent bar in Leeds – it’s actually Latin for ‘seize the day’.

The Midnight Library reminds the reader that imagined realities are often a smokescreen. For a start, they don’t exist – and therefore neither do any of the downsides or consequences of this life. It’s totally imaginary.

You can overanalyse your own actions, as depressives do; vivisecting one’s self on the altar of self-reflectiveness. Or, you can take your life as it is, warts and all. Mould it, influence it, and – in somewhat of an Absurdist manner – live your life in spite of the shortcomings and create art that parodies your own mortal condition.

In short, just live.

Tell me more about your experiences of The Midnight Library in the comments below 👇

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