“The Midnight Library” was the first book of Matt Haig’s that I have read, after hearing tons about his other books and this one having been released last year, in 2020. Some others that he wrote and that might ring a bell to you are “Notes on a Nervous Planet”, “Reasons to Stay Alive” or the novel “The Humans”. The current read has been chosen by one of my book clubs and I decided to join in to their January 2021 read in order to finally discover the author for myself.
What instantly stood out to me and what I also read out from reviews about “The Midnight Library”, was how was extremely predictable it was. I’m just not of a fan of it when reading, so that’s where my first reduction in the rating came from. It was literally upon the first major plot event taking place that I knew exactly how the story would continue and how it would end.
Another thing that would probably be decisive in you ending up liking the book or not, is its style. It’s written in the simplest possible language, so that I could even see this as a good book for those who are learning English. For an avid reader however, it felt a bit too superficial and disappointing. That’s where the second reduction in the rating came from. It left me longing for more creative writing, while I struggled through very basic dialogues. After reading this book, I have learned to appreciate Sally Rooney’s “Normal People” much more. Whereas she managed to masterfully craft conversations between people, Matt Haig’s exchanges between his characters felt forced, a bit cliché and cheesy. Most of the lines that came out of their mouths unfortunately didn’t feel like they were anything anyone would ever say out loud beside some actors in a corny series. Top that off with some very basic humour and you’ll often find yourself cringing while reading page after page.
” ‘Oh Joe, poor you. I’m sorry about the break-up. And everything else.’
‘You’re all I’ve got, sis,’ he said, his voice cracking a little. ‘I know I haven’t valued you. I know I wasn’t always the best, growing up. But I had my own shit going on.” (p. 279)
” ‘It meant a lot to me. And to your brother. To all of us. We had a deal with Universal. Right. There. Album, singles, tour, promo. We could be Coldplay now.’
‘You hate Coldplay.’
‘Not the point. We could be in Malibu. Instead: Bedford. And so, no, your brother’s not ready to see you.’ ” (p. 14)
The third reduction in the rating, which made me finally settle on 2/5 ★ was the fact that some parts of the plot felt simply too exaggerated and not believable enough. Without spoiling anything, I can say that the story focuses on the possibility of visiting numerous different lives thanks to a special kind of library. When you come across descriptions where the main character is both an Olympic award winning swimmer and a singer, who could perform live in front of a crowd of thousands of people, you end up wondering if the story really had to be packed so full with unrealistic extremes?
“Already the place was erupting. They screamed and roared and clapped and chanted. The response was phenomenal. She felt, momentarily, like Cleopatra. An utterly terrified Cleopatra. […]
As she sang, she felt alive. Even more alive than she had felt swimming in her Olympic-champion body.” (p. 162)
The reason why I didn’t let the rating slide down even further to just 1/5 ★ was because in the end, “The Midnight Library” was a cute little story, to finish this review on a positive note. Yes, the writing wasn’t spectacular and didn’t really stand out. Yes, the plot was exaggerated & not very believable even within the frames of a work of fiction. But! The author still managed to get you thinking about your current life, making you appreciate all its aspects, cherishing the relationships with people, accepting the state they are currently at and pushing you towards living in the moment, while advancing step by step to whatever state you’re aiming at. I can see it being appealing to younger readers, maybe those who are feeling overwhelmed by the everyday surroundings of social media, topics such as likes and online approval being brought up multiple times. It also has a bit of a feel of a little fairy tale for adults, so this might be the right book if you’re in desperate need of something very light and “fluffy”. 😀
“A person was like a city. You couldn’t let a few less desirable parts put you off the whole. There may be bits you don’t like, a few dodgy side streets and suburbs, but the good stuff makes it worthwhile.” (p. 48)
Edition: ISBN 978-1-78689-272-0
Canongate Books, 2020