Every civilisation that has ever existed has a sophisticated belief system in the afterlife. Heaven, Hell, Purgatory. Perhaps a half-existence as some kind of ghost. Less focused theories, based on the possibility that we live on as some form of ‘energy’ or spiritual influence. Or a conviction that we return to earth, and are re-born in physical, human form: reincarnation.
Matt Haig’s thought-provoking novel plays with many of these themes. His central concept is that, floating somewhere between this world and the next, is a sort of halfway-house: The Midnight Library. It’s a place where the countless stories of our lives are stored: all the versions that would have played out if we had taken different decisions at crucial points along the way. It’s a brilliant concept and has given birth to an excellent novel.
In this wonderful story, the suicidal Nora Seed finds herself in the Midnight Library. She’s been planning to take her own life for a long time but is confused to now find herself in this strangest of places. The chief librarian is a version of the real-life school librarian she knew as a child (a nice touch) and explains how the library works and what it is for.
Essentially, it’s a place of second chances. Third and fourth chances, too; indeed, an infinite number of them. Nora is invited to return to key moments in her life, to see what might have happened had she made different choices. Can there be such a thing as a perfect life? Can we undo all our deepest regrets?
Nora’s journeys into her own past are revealing, to begin with. But soon those forks in the road begin to pose real and present dangers. Both she, and the library, are in terrible peril. It’s a spellbinding tale.