Audiobook mini-review: The Midnight Library

Author: Matt Haig
Publication date: August 13, 2020
Genre: magical realism, contemporary, fantasy
My rating: 4.5/5 stars

Do you ever read a book that deals with a topic that is really close to your heart, and all you can think when you read it is some sound of internal shrieking because somebody gets it? Because…yeah, that pretty accurately sums up my feelings on The Midnight Library, a story about depression, second chances, and the impact of even the smallest choices. As is typical for me, this audiobook review is going to be very short, sweet, and concise, because let’s face it–audio reviews can be hard to write. Let’s go.

The Plot

Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

InΒ The Midnight Library, Matt Haig’s enchanting new novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

Trigger/content warnings: depression, suicide, addiction/alcoholism, death of a parent, self-harm, death of a pet (happens in the first chapter)

Review

As usual, this is all bullet-points, because that’s just how I roll.

  • The audiobook narration was by Carey Mulligan (yes, the famous actress) and was done SO well. Vivid and realistic emotional depth, in a tone that felt authentic to the character. Good narrators can make a difference for audio, and this was definitely an example of a good one.
  • The depression rep. So much of this book is about, or rooted in, depression. As someone who has a pretty long history of depression, a lot of the emotions expressed in this book were so painfully real, it’s like the author ripped them straight out of my head. This isn’t surprising; Matt Haig is known for his extensive knowledge about depression and his skill in writing about it.
  • The premise was a mix of sad and optimistic, which could be tricky to navigate but worked well here.
  • So many possible explanations posited for what actually was causing this Midnight Library phenomenon–quantum physics, God, obscure philosophy–was a nice way of pointing to conflicting worldviews (and makes sense when this is basically a multiverse story).
  • The wide variety of skills and interests of the protagonist. She is a swimmer, a musician, a philosophy geek, a cat-lover, and more. A lot of times, main characters in books have just one or two main interests or passions, but Nora felt very well-rounded.
  • It didn’t push some agenda about what the “ideal life” is. Every version of reality had good and bad components, and none of them were determinative of what was the best way to be.
  • This is very specific to me, but like…Nora had a weird number of commonalities with my own life?? Not that this means much, but the similarities were striking to me because I feel like these aren’t a common combination. Examples:
    • Both former swimmers (she quit because of pressure, I quit because of injuries, but we both quit around the same age)
    • Both musicians specializing in voice and piano
    • Both excelled academically in high school (and had siblings who were jealous of that)
    • Both started with science interests (her in glaciers, me in bio) but ended up getting sucked into the world of philosophy and humanities during college
    • The obvious depression and anxiety
    • …so shoutout to Matt Haig for turning my life experiences into this book I guess?

This book is a vivid, visceral read, full of both hurt and hope, and always reminding readers of the value of human life. It’s one that, regardless of your opinions on it as a whole, will probably stick with you for a long time.

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