Similar to Back to the Future, Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library is about potential. Putting imagery to string theory, Haig creates alternative lives for his character Nora Seed. Who, in the end, discovers that life is always an exercise of control and choice. Although that idea is less believable amidst a pandemic, it was an exciting quarantine read nonetheless. Which is probably why Haig’s book rose so swiftly up the charts when it did: The New York Times bestseller list, a BookTok favorite, Winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction in 2020, and a Good Morning America Club Pick.
With all of that being said, my biggest question while reading was, is this original? Now, from a purely literary perspective, the clear answer is no. Every story has already been told. When you rip the details and specifics from a story, to its bare mathematical format, every story has been told. And every story steals from the previous.
But ignoring all of that, is this story original? I had mentioned Back to the Future earlier, not only for its pop culture reference, but also because the story lines are similar. As we all know, Marty travels back in time with Doc to test his creation. Accidentally, the two shift their storylines into more beneficial circumstances than they were originally. However, this sort of rubber band effect of the timespan continuum plaques Marty and Doc for three movies while a similar effect plagues Nora throughout the book.
When Nora commits suicide, she is tired of her life. She gets fired from her dead-end job, accidentally abandons a music student, is continuously reminded of her wasted potential in her hometown, and can’t seem to keep anyone or anything around her. Following her suicide, she awakens in a massive library of her life. Not of the things she did or the people she knew, every book on every shelf was a life path she could’ve taken. But, here’s where I have a little problem with the plot. Each and every book is not only a new life, but a new Nora. In her original life, she is barely able to commit to a hobby, let alone the numerous careers and lifestyles she has. Would our situations change our personalities that much?
I guess you’ll have to read The Midnight Library to find out.