Thursday, February 11, 2021

The Midnight Library - Matt Haig

I waited a long time to get my hands on a library copy of Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library. By the time I got on the waiting list in late September 2020 the novel had received so much national publicity that a little over 200 people were ahead of me. I didn’t, in fact, make it to the top of the list until the second week of February 2021. So, of course, I expected big things from the novel, not wanting to believe, as so often happens, that it might turn out to be more hype than substance. But now, after having just turned the last page, I’m going to say that, for me at least, The Midnight Library turned out to be about 75% hype and 25% substance. It’s another one of those good-idea-poorly-delivered kind of books.


You’re probably already familiar with the novel’s basic premise because it’s been hard to avoid the novel ever since the Good Morning America Book Club turned it into an instant bestseller and national book club favorite. The plot goes like this: the suicidal Nora Seed (what a prophetic surname that turns out to be) is hovering somewhere between life and death when she wakes up in a huge library filled with books exclusively about her and her life -well, let’s make that lives. Each of the green-covered books on the shelves is an accounting of a life Nora would have lived if she had made a different choice at some pivotal point in her “root life.” Now, best of all, the kindly librarian is giving her the chance to test-drive any of the shelved lives she thinks she may be better suited to than the one she’s lived up to this point. So, the hard-to-please Nora is off to the races.


As soon as one of her chosen lives displeases her, she’s back in the library being offered another “book.” But there’s a catch: the number of books may be infinite in number, but she has to choose a life before time runs out for her. She has to decide which of the countless lives she wants to live for however long the rest of her life turns out to be.


The premise, even as often as similar ideas have been presented in the past, sounds like fun. And it should have been fun. The problem Haig has is that he is running Nora into and out of so many lives - lives in which she and all of her friends and family are very different people each time a shift is made - that he cannot take the time to develop any of the characters much past the “cardboard” stage. I found none of them much believable, and looked forward to meeting only one of them over and over for the length of the book, Mrs. Elm, the kindly librarian in charge of the Midnight Library. 


In the novel’s defense, I suppose that The Midnight Library could be characterized as a fable or even a fairy tale. Those genres don’t require a lot of character development in order to get their message across because, really, it’s all about the message with that kind of writing. And The Midnight Library does have a message. That’s not to say, however, that the message is very deep or that it rises above the pop-psychology level. 


All that said, I somehow finished the book - hoping for some kind of spectacular ending or change of course all the while - despite having considered its abandonment several times. 


Bottom Line: Not worth the wait. Not even close.


Matt Haig 

16 comments:

  1. Guess what? I managed to miss this book completely. I don't know how I did it, but after reading your review, I don't feel deprived. Thanks for not adding another book to my TBR pile, Sam. ;-)

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    1. Cathy, I don't know how you pulled that off, but consider yourself lucky.

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  2. Yes, the world and his mother-in-law seems to have been reading this one recently, seen it everywhere. I haven't been able to make up my mind about reading it to be honest. I'm not that great with books that repeat people's lives over and over, or anything to be honest... I really struggled last year with a crime book that went over and over the same murder solving it in a dozen or so ways. That said, I have Life After Life by Kate Atkinson on my shelf for 2021... we'll have to see how *that* goes. LOL! If I see The Midnight Library in the library in months to come, I'll grab it, maybe, but I won't be buying it.

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    1. Cath, I read the Kate Atkinson book you mention a while back, and I did find myself getting a little impatient with the required repetitiveness of her plot. But Atkinson is a much better writer than Haig when it comes to this kind of thing, so I ended up appreciating the book at the end.

      This is my second Matt Haig book, and looking back at my other review, I see that I was underwhelmed by that one, too, so this will probably be my last of his. I can't afford the wasted time anymore.

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  3. I've had four lives. Juvenile delinquent, business exec, college soccer coach, and writer. That's quite enough! Thanks for warning me off this book Sam!

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    1. Best reply ever. You've done quite well on trying out lives on your own...much better than Matt Haig does here.

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  4. Unfortunately, I feel the same way about THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY. It's very underwhelming!

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    1. Once I got to the "point-of-no-return" on this one, I could not wait for it to be over. Thankfully, as you know, it's a very easy read for all the wrong reasons, and it does go fairly quickly.

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  5. I agree, I felt it was targeted for a YA crowd even. It was rushed.

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    1. I saw somewhere that people who actually suffer clinical depression are quite upset with what they see as the condescending tone of The Midnight Library.

      Of course, Mr. Haig is laughing all the way to the bank...and who can blame him.

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  6. How disappointing! I've read quite a few similar takes, so you're not alone.

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    1. This seems to be one of those books that some people really love and gush over while others practically hate it. Not nearly as many people in the middle.

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  7. I haven't read this one yet, but I do have a copy (thanks to Susan). I'm sad it doesn't seem to live up to its hype, but I'm a big Matt Haig fan so I'll still read it. I've loved the other books of his that I've read: How To Stop Time, The Radleys and especially The Humans. IF you decide to try him again, read The Humans. It's my favorite. :)

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation of which one of his books is best. The other one I've read is How to Stop Time, and I found it to be pretty mediocre. I think it's his writing style as much as anything else. We are just not a match, so I'll probably pass on anymore of his...but thanks.

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