‘Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?’
This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year. It had me at ‘library that contains an infinite number of books’. Then there’s my mild obsession with all things multiverse and my knowing that there isn’t a version of me that doesn’t end up reading this book. I was so hyped up about this book that I preordered three different versions of it. (Sorry, bank account …)
What I didn’t expect was to come to the realisation that I didn’t actually like Nora. It took almost no time at all for me to begin resenting her for squandering her potential. She was intelligent and gifted in various disciplines but she bailed on multiple opportunities that most people could only dream of having. Even though I also acknowledged and empathised with the pain she’d experienced, it still took a long time for me to stop being distracted by the privilege she took for granted.
‘Never underestimate the big importance of small things.’
I loved the idea of being able to test drive different versions of the life that could have been, although it did raise some questions for me. Some were addressed in this book but others are still ticking over in my mind.
Nora inhabits the bodies of a number of different versions of herself, all living lives that could potentially have been hers. When she returns to the library the other Noras resume their lives. Nora’s actions in a borrowed life could easily result in consequences that would derail an aspect of the life of the Nora that lives there, and I wondered if I would chance that if I was in her place. I’d hate to think that me acting in an unintentionally careless way could have real world consequences for another version of me.
If someone who has their own version of the Midnight Library chooses to stay in one of the lives they visit, what happens to the version of themselves who lived there first? Do they die? Swap existences with the interloper? Or is their existence undone entirely? Also, if you remain in another version of your life, could you ever truly feel like you belong or would you constantly feel like you need to fake knowing people that weren’t a part of your original life?
I did eventually get over my initial resentment/envy of Nora’s many opportunities and settled into exploring each new possible life with her. There were some lives I wanted to visit longer and others I wanted to escape from almost immediately. It seemed obvious from early on where Nora’s story was leading.
One thing that I hadn’t given much thought to in the context of this story prior to reading it was the impact that Nora’s choices in life, big and small, would have on the other people in her life. In this respect it reminded me of The Butterfly Effect, although Nora’s story is nowhere near as dark as Evan’s. Paulo Coelho’s Veronika Decides to Die and Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken also popped into my mind as I was reading.
I wound up thinking a lot about who my Mrs Elm would be and the form that my Midnight Library would take. While my Library would have books (obviously!), I’m still not entirely sure who my Mrs Elm is.
I don’t know if it’s possible to read this book without thinking about your own regrets. Equally, I don’t know if it’s possible to read this book without considering the changes you could make in your life to erase them.
The story is told quite simply. It seemed to me to be part cautionary tale, part self help book and part Philosophy 101.
‘Now go on, live, while you still have the chance.’
Content warnings include alcoholism, death by suicide, grief, mental health, self harm, suicidal ideation and attempt.
Once Upon a Blurb
Between life and death there is a library.
When Nora Seed finds herself in the Midnight Library, she has a chance to make things right. Up until now, her life has been full of misery and regret. She feels she has let everyone down, including herself. But things are about to change.
The books in the Midnight Library enable Nora to live as if she had done things differently. With the help of an old friend, she can now undo every one of her regrets as she tries to work out her perfect life. But things aren’t always what she imagined they’d be, and soon her choices place the library and herself in extreme danger.
Before time runs out, she must answer the ultimate question: what is the best way to live?