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The Midnight Library: Poignant, Beautiful, Accessible


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The Midnight Library: A Novel: Haig, Matt: 9780525559474: Amazon.com: BooksIn the spirit of frankness, I'll admit that it took me a while to pick this one up. I'd seen The Midnight Library by Matt Haig on pretty much every 2020 list imaginable. The sales were through the roof, the 5-star reviews stacking up, and still I dragged my feet. What was the appeal of a story about a suicidal woman experiencing all the lives she didn't live? It didn't exactly sound like a crowd-pleaser to me.

But eventually, I couldn't stand the suspense. I checked out the audiobook, cleared my weekend schedule.

And was blown away.

This story is an emotional, brilliant, heartwarming exploration of loss and regret and depression. With beautiful but straightforward writing, Haig breathes life into Nora Seed and her sympathetic disappointment in herself and life in general. What begins as a dour, desperate situation leaves the reader with the uplifting feeling that life is a beautiful gift to be savored.

Trust me, it's great.

No wonder it's doing so well.

The lesson we writers can learn from The Midnight Library is the importance of emotion. Haig doesn't just tell you Nora is depressed. He walks you through the course of a day with her, a terrible day that leads her to conclude that life isn't worth living. Nothing particularly awful happens, but you can feel the blow of each small, lonely indignity: the death of her cat, the loss of her job, the run-in with an old friend she disappointed who is in touch with her estranged brother. Haig makes you feel as Nora does.

Then, over the course of the novel, the reader feels Nora changing. You're brought in through her eyes to see the beauty of life, the pointlessness of regret, and the truth that the window-dressing of an existence doesn't change what's inside. You can be a famous rock-star and still be depressed. You can be an Olympic swimmer and still be disappointed. And because you feel these things with Nora, see them in action, it's that much more real. The revelation at the end that (*mild spoilers*) life is filled with endless potential simply because it is life and it is always worth living feels earned. It feels right. Because, having experienced it yourself, it's become an emotional truth for you as well as Nora, which is a thousand times stronger than logic.

It's a truism that novels are supposed to make you feel, but I think it's easy to forget that when caught up in the details of plot, character, setting, and structure. We writers can get so focused on the minutiae of storytelling that we forget the fundamental reason people read in the first place: to feel. To experience a human life different than their own, in all it's emotional complexity. Reading is a sort of virtual reality, a way to experience vicariously through characters, to learn as they do. The best novels make us laugh, smile, and cry. They leave us full of something, whether it's hope, tragedy, anger, revulsion, or joy. They resonate with our humanity, and in doing so connect us to something bigger than ourselves.

Which is a gift in itself.

It's not easy to create something like The Midnight Library, but if you aspire to write a novel that touches hearts and minds then I highly recommend giving this one a read. What more do we storytellers want than to offer people hope and joy... and maybe hit a few bestseller lists on the side?

 

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