So I recently read The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, continuing the magical library theme from my last read. This book I number 20 for the year.
TW: Discussions about suicide and self harm
The book opens with a count down to Nora’s death. Nora is depressed and through a series of mishaps, she loses (or so she feels) her few lifelines that made her life worth living. When she takes her own life, she is taken to the Midnight Library. Every book in the library is a life, where an alternative self of hers is living out a different path she could have walked. In the library she is greeted by the her old school librarian, who acts as her guide. Nora is handed her book of regrets and gets given the chance to try out these different lives, if she finds herself in one where she feels content and happy, she can choose to stay in it and subsume that Nora’s life. While she is the liminal space between life and death, she can continue to try as many lives as she likes but none of them seem to fit her. In some of these lives she is depressed, in some of them she self harms, in some she has had suicide attempts and in some she appears to only have experienced the shadow of depression in her life. It explores some of the ideas that even if she could undo her biggest regrets she wouldn’t be ‘better’ or cured, she wouldn’t feel content in that life, even in ones where her biggest dreams were fulfilled.
I think by my description alone you can guess how this story ends and while it’s an interesting concept, I’m not sure it communicates it’s intended message the right way. It’s supposed to be about teaching you that you made the choices you made for a reason and your life is as it is for a reason, regrets are useless because your life is exactly as it’s meant to be and you have to find the joy in it. However, some part of me doesn’t like the idea that it pushes, that simply ‘changing your mindset’ can cure suicidal thoughts/ ideation. I think if you were in that place you would either find the message uplifting, or it would make you feel very guilty.
Over time we do see Nora develop and overcome a lot of her long held notions, which contribute to her low self esteem and isolation. She discovers that she isn’t worthless, she discovers a desire to survive, to live. Kind of like the journey you might take with a therapist. So I do think it does do some great work to tackle this topic but I don’t think it’s perfect. I think it puts a lot of responsibility on the sick person for the way they are, which is caused by a chemical imbalance, as well as maladaptive thinking. Fixing one doesn’t automatically cure the other.
Having said that, it’s a nice short book, with an interesting idea behind it, so give it a read if you’ve got a minute.