Likely Stories : The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig

Jul 1, 2021

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Betcha’ thought I’d run out of novels set in Libraries and bookstores!  Well, here is a story of love and depression.  The Midnight Library by Matt Haig is just what the book reviewer ordered.  Matt is the author of the internationally bestselling memoirs Reason to Stay Alive, along with five novels, including How to Stop Time, as well as several award-winning children’s books.  Somehow, I felt this novel was going to speak to me.


I don’t often slip a quote from a blurb into an excerpt of a novel, but I could not resist in this case now.  Here it is, “I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want.  I can never train myself in all the skills I want.  And why do I want?  I want to live and feel all the shades, tones, and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. –Sylvia Plath.  Also, ‘Between life and death there is a library,’ she said.  And within that library, the shelves go on forever.  Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived.  To see how things would be if you had made other choices ... Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?’  Please do not be alarmed!  When I read this passage, I was overcome with a flood of memories.  We can all undo most of them.

The story begins: Matt writes, A Conversation About Rain “Nineteen years before she decided to die, Nora Seed sat in the warmth of the small library at Hazaldine School in the town of Bedford.  She sat at a low table staring at a chess board. // ‘Nora dear, it’s natural to worry about your future,’ said the librarian, Mrs. Elm, her eyes twinkling” (1).  There, don’t you feel better already?  The next story begins, The Man at the Door.  Twenty-seven hours before she decided to die, Nora Seed sat on a dilapidated sofa scrolling through other people’s happy lives, waiting for something to happen. 

And then, out of nowhere, something actually did. // Someone, for whatever reason rang her doorbell.” // […] “She put on her slippers, to be slightly more civilized, and discovered that the person at the door was a man, and one she recognized.  He was tall and gangly and boyish, with a kind face, but his eyes were sharp and bright, like they could see through things” (5).  Gotcha now!

The story continues, Haig wrote, “‘Who are you?’ // But before she had finished the question, she realized she already knew the answer // ‘I’m the librarian,’ the woman said coyly.  ‘That is who.’ // Right there in front of her, was her old school librarian. // ‘Mrs. Elm.’ (27).  ‘What is this place?  Where am I?’ // ‘It’s not the school library.  And there’s no exit.  ‘Am I dead?  Is this the afterlife? // ‘Not exactly,’ said Mrs. Elm. // I don’t understand.’ // ‘Then let me explain.’” (28).  The mystery abounds, and you will have to read The Midnight Library by Matt Haig to untangle the story—a story much more than you might have guessed.  5 Stars!

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!