The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

The concepts of multiple lives and alternate universes make up the bulk of Matt Haig’s newest book, The Midnight Library. Given the current state of the world, I found the concept of an alternate universe to be refreshing even though I’m still not certain if that is something that I would want. Haig does an excellent job of discussing the morality of switching universes versus keeping your root life, a philosophical conundrum that most people do not think about on a daily basis.

Nora Seed wants to die. That is how this novel begins. Nothing in her life is going her way. She has lost her job, her pet, her best friend, and her brother. Her existing relationships are on the verge of disaster and Nora is struggling to find the will to live. She doesn’t see the point in living anymore and decides to kill herself.

Then she wakes up. Instead of ending up in an afterlife, Nora finds herself in a middle ground: a library. In fact, she is in the Midnight Library. Walking inside, Nora discovers that the library is full to the brim with books and the dutiful librarian in charge is the librarian from her early school days, Mrs. Elm. Confused and unsure what to do next. Nora turns to Mrs. Elm for help. Mrs. Elm explains to Nora that in fact this library is where people go when they are stuck between life and death. The library appears to people in many different ways, but the contents stay the same: every book that Nora sees is a different version of her own life, including her original life aka her root life. The millions of decisions that Nora choose during her life, and the subsequent decisions she said no to, all live within this library. Most importantly, Nora has the ability to choose to live any life that she wants to now, with restrictions and strings attached of course.

Overwhelmed with this knowledge, Nora has no idea where to begin. She is wracked with regret about what happened, and didn’t happen, in her root life. Mrs. Elm suggests she learn more about her regrets, sending Nora down a journey of self-discovery through a multitude of parallel universes that all have the power to change Nora’s perspective of her root life. As Nora tries on life and life, she slowly realizes that she’s never truly happy in any of these alternate lives either. This causes her to panic and wonder if she will be stuck in the Midnight Library forever. Nora must decide what she truly wants out of life and try to overcome the crushing regret that threatens to destroy her. As Nora goes on this journey, Mrs. Elm is right by her side, guiding her to what she truly desires even if Nora has no idea what that is.

If you’re looking for an escape, I recommend this book. If you’re looking to read about life struggles, alternate histories, parallel universes, or if you just want to pick up book about someone who is struggling to find their way like most of us are, this book is for you. It turned out in a way that I wasn’t expecting and I can’t wait to talk about it with you.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Online Reading Challenge – November

Hello Challenge Readers!

Welcome to the November Reading Challenge. This month our inspiration movie is Back to the Future!

This beloved film gives us a lot of options for books to read. Obviously, time travel would work, as would alternate histories. I’m also throwing it open to any science fiction title – maybe there’s one on your TBR list, or one that’s a little out of your usual reading choices that you’d like to try. I don’t read a lot of science fiction, but I do have some favorites.

Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This is an obvious choice, but it’s a good one. Skip the movie, the book is much better with lots more character development and a deeper emotional impact. It is, in fact, a love story about a man who travels through time (without his consent or control) and the woman that waits for him.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel. I loved this book, but it might hit a little too close to current events for some (it was written in 2014, long before COVID) In this book, a deadly flu wipes out 99 percent of the human population. The story moves between flashbacks to the “before” and of the survivors struggling in the “after”. Despite this description, the book is full of beauty and joy and community and most important, hope.

Step Back in Time by Ali McNamara is a fun and romantic time travel novel. After Jo-Jo is hit by a car she wakes up in 1963 where everything is different. It happens again and again, sending Jo-Jo to the 1970s, then the 80s and then the 90s. Why is she traveling through time and how will she ever get back to 2013?

Uprooted by Naomi Novik. This one strays a little bit from our film inspiration, but it is an excellent book full with spells and secrets. Agnieszka loves her quiet rural village, but an ever present threat hangs over it – an evil forest known as The Wood. A wizard that lives in the nearby castle keeps it at bay, but in exchange, every 10 years a young woman is recruited from the village to serve as his apprentice. When Agnieszka is chosen, no one is more surprised than she is. For an excellent series of alternate history, read Novik’s Temeraire series starting with His Majesty’s Dragon where dragons are part of the naval fighting forces of the Napoleonic era. No, really. It’s excellent!

I am going to read A Murder in Time by Julie McElwen, the first in a series about Kendra Donovan, an FBI agent that is thrown back in time to 1815 and into the life of a servant where she becomes involved with solving the mystery of a serial killer. Hmmm. Intriguing. I’ll let you know how it goes!

How about you? What will you be reading this month? Let us know in the comments!

Online Reading Challenge – November

Hello Fellow Readers!

It’s November and that means it’s time for reading – Alternate Histories!

Alternate Histories are kind of like brain teasers for the reader by asking the unanswerable What If? question. They fall mostly into two categories:

General. What If Lincoln had lived? Or JFK? What If the Nazi’s had won World War II? What If Rome had not fallen? How would the world be different now? Better? Worse? Some titles that fall into this category include 11/22/63 by Stephen King (about preventing the assisination of John F Kennedy), Fatherland by Robert Harris (if the Nazi’s had won WWII), and multiple titles by Harry Turtledove. Or perhaps you believe history could use some spicing up – try Naomi Novik’s excellent His Majesty’s Dragon where the Napoleonic Wars are fought with the help of dragons (it’s quite good – really!).

Personal. What If you could go back and make different choices in your own life? How would your life be different? Some examples would include The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Greer about a woman who finds herself transported to other lives she might have  lived: Replay by Ken Grimwood is about a man who dies repeatedly, only to wake as his younger self again and again, each time with a chance to reclaim a lost love, make a fortune on the stock market or correct a wrong; or If I Could Turn Back Time by Beth Harbison about a successful but unhappy 38-year-old who, after a knock on her head, wakes up just before her 18th birthday.

A kind of “sub-category” would be the Time Travel novels (remember, there are no Library Police! Read what interests you! Plus, I just made up this genre and I get to make the rules!) These would include Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and it’s many sequels and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.

Be sure to stop by any Davenport Library location and check out the Online Reading Challenge displays for lots more ideas and suggested titles.

I am planning on reading The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen Flynn about two researchers that go back in time to recover a suspected unpublished Jane Austen novel. Wouldn’t that be fabulous?

Now, what about you? What you be reading this month?

 

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde fits into a lot of different genres:  it’s a little bit sci-fi, literary fiction, humor and thriller.  In an alternate 1985 in England, Thursday Next is a LiteraTec working to solve literary crimes (typically small-time stuff like copyright infringement).  But her career takes a more drastic turn when criminal mastermind Acheron Hades steals the original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens.    And so begins a game of cat and mouse between Thursday and Acheron in which she is constantly escaping death, though just barely.  Things take a turn when a character goes missing from Dickens’ novel:  it turns out that Thursday’s uncle has created a device that allows a person to jump into a literary work, and Acheron has found the device and kidnapped the character, changing the whole story.  And if his demands aren’t met, Acheron will take things to the next level and do the same to the beloved Jane Eyre herself, removing her from her classic novel and thus changing the face of classic literature forever.

It took me a while to really get into this book, but once Acheron has made the threat on Jane Eyre, it gets hard to put down (especially for a Jane Eyre fan!).  This is a very unique book, especially with the alternate history that is involved; it’s not the world that we know today, and this includes the ending to Jane Eyre itself.  If you’re into the classics and enjoy a little bit of a sci-fi edge to your books, I recommend picking up this book.