‘The Midnight Library’ by Matt Haig – abandoned at 25% – disappointed and a little angry

I started to understand that this book wasn’t for me as soon as Nora reached the Midnight Library and was handed her heavy Book of Regrets.

Four things became clear to me then.

  1. Nora’s decision to end her life because she can find no reason to live and spends each day in pain and sadness and feeling that her only contribution is to make the lives of those around her worse is not accepted as a legitimate choice.
  2. Nora’s depression, the thing that has drained her of the will to live, is labelled Situational and not Clinical depression. In other words, it’s seen as a temporary condition arising from a trauma or series of traumas. The implication seemed to be that Nora has had a problem adjusting to her new circumstances and that this is a problem that could be fixed. This ignores the fact that Nora’s depression is not recent, appears to be recurrent and that her mother also seems to have suffered from depression for some time, all of which suggest Clinical depression.
  3. The Book Of Regrets seems to suggest that Nora’s depression and her decision to end her life result from her being weighed down by a burden of regret that has overwhelmed her. In other words, Nora is where she is because of choices she wishes she hadn’t made and which she can’t cope with the consequences of. In other words, Nora is to blame for her depression and her decision to suicide.
  4. The Library is a device that treats life as a coat you choose to wear and that you could exchange for another. It offers Nora the opportunity to try on several lives and see if another life, with different choices and different regrets, would fit her better. This seemed to me to model life as a video game where you get to level up if you make the right decisions and where the Library offers you the opportunity to learn by playing several times.

I found all four of these points annoyed me. I think it demeans a sincere decision to choose to die. I feel that it manages to put depression on a par with a muscle strain that you’ll recover from if you rest up and it seems to imply that the decision to suicide is just one more bad decisions in a series of bad decisions that have generated nothing but a Book of Regrets.

The idea that this could be ‘fixed’ by a trying on series of alternate lives seemed specious to me.

I read the first alternate life anyway and wasn’t surprised to find that Nora still wasn’t happy. It was quickly apparent that the man she’d jilted in her ‘Root Life’ and who was her husband in her first alternate life, was a tosser she was better off without.

I groaned at that point and finally understood the comparison between this book and ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’. I could see that I was going to spend the next several hours listening to Nora trying on alternate life after alternate life and finding that none of them was perfect. Eventually, I expected her to work out that the regrets that made her ‘Root Life’ unbearable weren’t really things she needed to regret and that she’d then revisit her decision today and return, like Scrooge on Christmas morning, to live her life as best she could. Amen.

I don’t know if the book ends like that because I didn’t stick around to find out. I was only a quarter of the way through the book and I already felt that I was being lectured and that the premise of the lecture wasn’t just flawed but was one I was actively angered by.

I believe the decision to stop living is a valid one and if you’ve never had cause to consider it then you’re very lucky and I hope you stay that way. I know that depression is a killer. It robs you of your life and your self in the same way that Alzheimer’s does. I don’t believe it can be treated by revisiting your regrets and showing them to be specious. I think life is fundamentally entropic, heat going to cold, and that living is about finding ways to stay warm until and unless the effort of staying warm is more than you can give.

I’d gone into this book with high hopes. I knew that if I stayed with it all the way through I would just be making myself angry.

So, ‘The Midnight Library’ went back to Audible, like a regret I didn’t need, and will be replaced with a book that I hope to enjoy more.

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