Since our discussion of Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library this last Tuesday, I have been thinking as much about what we didn’t discuss as what we did. What did we think of the individual story lines? How effective is the book as a fantasy on its own? How does it compare with The Alchemist, another philosophy-heavy book we discussed this last January? One of us took copious notes, enamored of the Midnight Librarian Mrs. Elm and her truisms. What other informative tidbits did we miss?
Many of us liked the book well enough. “A fun, fast read. Kind of silly.” One member would have preferred a format in which Nora was not clueless in each of the different life possibilities. Others said that Nora couldn’t understand those lives fully because she hadn’t earned them, she was just visiting. Many of us wanted Nora to stay in the life with Ash and a daughter, but we noted that she could possibly still have a family with Ash. We didn’t really delve into specifics of why each version of her life was imperfect. She had attempted suicide and was on antidepressants in many of them. What was important was that she learned that she really wanted to live.
One of us likes fantasy and science fiction, so he enjoyed it, but he thought the ending was “hokey, hinkey, dorey.” Most of us, though, found the happy ending important, even essential, highlighting the Thoreau philosophy mentioned in the book: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” A new member felt that revisiting regrets and choices is just not realistic. Life is going to turn out the way it will. We are all looking for purpose and belonging. A young staff member who attended because she loves the book, said that her own experiences lead her to appreciate the philosophy this book offered. By the end, Nora is focusing her efforts on others – outward rather than inward. And in a different way than living for one’s parents or a spouse. Another person said that we will of course have regrets, we just can’t dwell on them. A couple of us found common ground in the study of stoicism.
A few members found the book just sad. What happened to the other Noras who were being displaced? Perhaps the book was just happening all in her head while she was in the hospital, fighting for life. One member felt that the main character had a good life and was just on a “pity pot”— which showcases how depression can overwhelm reason and brought us back to the idea that perspective is everything.
As one of our members shared, the first twenty-five pages of the book – counting down from “nineteen years before she decided to die”—are scary and can be triggering if you identify with the character. I was worried about this particularly because the differences between life perspectives at 35 (Nora’s age) and at 85 can be enough to make this story unevenly effective. I opened the meeting by highlighting resources for mental health and general assistance. Most of us know these resources are available, but in moments of crisis, do we have the energy and hope to reach out? Even the oft-used statement that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem is not effective if it is a re-occurring problem and you have decided you want a permanent solution. One of the early chapter headings in Midnight Library is “To Live Is To Suffer.” And moments of suffering often seem to go on forever. But do they really? If only we, and our loved ones, could all be reminded in times of suffering to pause and reach out.
If you or someone you care about have a tendency toward depression, make a safety plan. If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org.
- Other Works Discussed:
- Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022) Film
- The Family Man (2000) Film
- Life After Life (2014) by Kate Atkinson
- Life Is A Banquet (1977) by Rosalind Russell