Follow Tales from Absurdia on WordPress.com

Why The Midnight Library is an Existential Classic

Why The Midnight Library is an Existential Classic

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 👇

One Key Reason to Read the Book Before the Movie

Why You Should Read the Book Before the Movie Blog Header

‘Why read the book when you could just watch the movie?’

You’ve likely been asked this from one or two of your slightly less bookish friends.

It’s one of those moments where you’ve got a whole range of reasons lined up to explain why, but don’t wish to sound unkind.

But to be fair, there are plenty of very good reasons why someone might wish to experience the movie first. Here are a handful.

Reading is Daunting

For some, the prospect of opening a book at the end of the working day is just not desirable. For those who haven’t made reading a part of their life, it’s a hard sell when there’s an easier option.

People don’t like to feel stupid or vulnerable, and reading – being such a basic life skill – can make them feel that way if it’s something that isn’t part of their daily routine.

In that respect, it’s often easier to settle down and watch a movie.

The movie is shorter

(Unless it’s the Hobbit trilogy *snicker*)

But in all seriousness, the point of movie adaptations – other than making all of the moneys – is to create a more digestible form of media.

It stands to reason that some may prefer this method of media consumption – even if those of us in the book blogging community may not.

Credit: Reddit.com

Prefer the experience

Let’s be honest – there’s something spectacular about watching a movie on the big screen. The overpriced popcorn and coke taste automatically better than they ought to – plus you’re often with your mates. Watching a movie is a social experience.

Alternatively, with a home cinema setup with 4K, surround sound, and all the bells & whistles, it’s hard to not find that an inherently sexy way of experiencing media.

Compare that with the humble setting of you, yourself, and a battered paperback. Sure, it’s charming, but it’s at least understandable why some might prefer the big screen.

Struggling with reading

My brother loves reading, but as someone with learning difficulties, he sometimes struggles to follow the words without a visual cue.

For him, watching a movie first gives him the understanding of the outline of the plot – and who the characters are.

Then, when he reads the book, he already has a contextual knowledge of what’s happening on the page. This actually allows him to enjoy the book far more than going in without a point of reference.

And if that means he’s able to get more enjoyment from the book, who are we to judge?

Watching the movie can be an entry point into reading the book

Let’s not forget – it doesn’t need to be one or the other.

Look at Game of Thrones (the TV show). It was a television phenomenon that actually made people far more interested in picking up G.R.R.M.’s novels. I can think of a handful of people who don’t typically read, who picked up the box set and were making steady progress.

To return to the movie angle – plenty of people were enthralled by the cliffhanger ending of Catching Fire, and simply could not wait for the Mockingjay movies to come out. So they read the books.

Here's why you should read the book before the movie, however...

As discussed, there are a bevy of reasons why people might watch the movie adaptation first.

However, by doing so, you miss out on a one-time joy that you’ll never, ever be able to replicate again.

Experiencing a story free of bias.

When you read a book for the first time, your imagination fills in the details. Your idea of a setting & how characters look will inevitably differ to another reader’s.

Reading is an act of creation. Every time you open a book, without prior experience of the world contained within, the reader creates a textual palimpsest; another layer of fictionality that watching a movie robs the reader of.

Remember – a movie is one person’s interpretation of the source material. Watching that, without having read the book, robs the reader of their creative agency – and from a reading perspective, that’s quite tragic.

What are your thoughts? Do you try to read the book before the movie, or the other way around? Leave a comment and let me know!