Book Review: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

I don’t often pay good money for a book – having a massive TBR pile from NetGalley downloads and freebies – but a friend had raved about this in our last book club Zoom. Then I saw Matt Haig talking about it himself on the Sara Cox book club programme ‘Between The Covers’ on BBC2 – and it felt like fate was talking to me – so having enjoyed ‘Notes On A Nervous Planet‘ last year – I thought I’d give this a go and downloaded it to my Kindle.

Here’s the 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?

Initially, in her root life, Nora reminded me of Eleanor Oliphant, in that she was quite a loaner, and a bit sad. Being compared to Eleanor is definitely not a bad thing though!

Then Nora arrives in the Midnight Library – a strange place between life and death where you can enter different books to see how your life might have been different if you’d made alternative decisions.

And thus we enter ‘Sliding Doors’ territory – with far less Gwyneth though!

Nora chooses books to go back and see how her life would have turned out differently if she’d made alternative decisions at various points, so she sees herself as a rockstar, an explorer, a mother, and many, many other guises too. Some of the chapters are quite convoluted – and others really short – and that keeps the momentum of the book.

Nora soon comes to realise, with the help of The Midnight Library custodian (who was actually her librarian at school when she suffered a trauma in her root life and showed her great kindness) that changing her own path has a knock on effect on those that she loves. There is death and destruction to others – when Nora is living a seemingly charmed life, and equally Nora’s own life has different problems in these parallel universes.

Equally the seemingly small, inconsequential, good deeds that Nora has done in her root life, in fact have dramatic consequences when she hasn’t done them.

This book is about the grass not always being greener, and about how small acts of everyday kindness can be incredibly valuable.

Another friend described The Midnight Library to me in a WhatsApp yesterday as ‘comforting like a hot water bottle’ which is just a perfect description – and it is real food for the soul in these tricky times.

This would make a perfect Christmas present for someone – or for yourself if you’re one of the seemingly few people who hasn’t read it yet.

Book Review: Notes On A Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

I am generally a one book woman, I don’t like being unfaithful to a book by starting another one before I’ve finished the first.  However, I have a large TBR pile – and a mix of ‘proper’ books and Kindle books, and a mix of fiction and non-fiction.  So in a bid to ‘spice up my life’ I’ve decided to have one fiction (Kindle) and one non fiction (hard copy) on the go at a time.  Honestly – I live life on the edge sometimes!!

One of my lovely friends gave me this book for my birthday earlier in the year.  She LOVES Matt Haig and thought I would enjoy this too.  We have often recommended or given each other books – who doesn’t love getting a surprise book through the post?  (Oh – and if you want to send a book and other goodies, then the fabulous Don’t Buy Her Flowers who I’ve blogged about before way back when they’d just started, do a great book package – which even includes this exact book – this is not an #ad – I just love their work!!)

Anyway – back to the book!

Notes on a Nervous Planet

Here’s the blurb:

“The world is messing with our minds. What if there was something we could do about it?
Looking at sleep, news, social media, addiction, work and play, Matt Haig invites us to feel calmer, happier and to question the habits of the digital age. This book might even change the way you spend your precious time on earth.”

The recommendations for this book are immense – lots of famous people singing its praises – which always makes me nervous.  What if I don’t like it?  And I think I therefore started reading this like a bit of a petulant child. Waiting to be wowed.

Quite early on I realised, this is not earth shattering content.  It is not telling me anything I didn’t already know – but, it really helps to stop and think about things like this sometimes.  Life is so busy sometimes (made busier by social media, blogging about books etc) that you don’t think about what you’re doing – you just continue on the hamster wheel of life.

So about a third in I realised that this book was actually brilliant at making me stop and think.  And it made so much sense.

At times I felt a little bit smug – I don’t take my phone to bed with me (we’ve always left them downstairs to charge, not through deliberately thinking about our mental health – it’s just always been our habit) and I’m also not bothered what people think of what I post on social media – I overshare good or bad (whilst I was suffering with recurrent piles my husband reckoned he couldn’t go to the Co-op in our village without someone asking about my arse) and I don’t filter the f*ck out of photos either.  Do not fear, there are no piles photos – but I did recently share a photo of my extremely wonky bosoms (shoulder protectors when clay pigeon shooting are not designed for women with ample chests!)
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But I do sometimes check back to see how many ‘likes’ – or in this instance LOLs – a photo has got.  And this book made me stop and think.  Why?  I’m a 45 year old, happily married mother of 4 – do I really need the validation of knowing I’ve brightened someone’s day with an amusing photo?  (Although is entertaining other people better than people aspiring to my filtered / air brushed body shape #nevergonnahappen!)

I’m lucky that I’ve never had a full on anxiety / panic attack – but lots of people close to me do struggle with these things – and as a parent  (and  wife / cousin / friend) it’s something I’m having to be much more aware of – so stopping to think about that was really helpful.

Matt Haig also sings the praise of nature – and it’s not something I’d thought about much – despite it being an intrinsic part of our life now.  Last Autumn we moved the office for our construction company from an industrial estate in the suburbs of Birmingham to a 6 acre site in the countryside outside Brum.  At the office we also now have chickens and pigs and a lot of green space.  It really ‘feels’ different – and if you’re having a stressy day – being able to pop outside and chat to the chickens is a welcome break.

chickens and pigs

My husband – whose anxiety often manifests itself in obsessive cleaning, particularly vacuuming, now has an additional outlet – sitting on his tractor mowing the 6 acres is his new escape.   It’s also been good for us as a family – the children are more than happy to come and help with the animals and plants – and it gets them away from their devices too – which, as the book says, are pretty omnipresent for almost everyone nowadays.  We are very lucky that we have this asset on our doorstep, and I realise not everyone can work somewhere so lovely – but there are lots of green spaces in the UK – even in our big cities.  I remember way back in the 90s when studying to be an accountant a friend and I would go and sit in an underpass in the middle of Birmingham where there was a planted garden at lunchtime (although there was some confusion when someone misheard and thought I’d been in this friends underpants not underpass during the lunch break).

Some of the Amazon reviews of this book comment about it being disjointed and a random collection of the authors thoughts – and I can see where they’re coming from – but it didn’t distract from the overall message for me.  But then – I did have it as my toilet book (back to my bowel issues again!) and so read it in small chunks, and maybe I would have felt differently if I’d sat down to read it for a solid few hours. (Small chunks / solid – I’m not going to go there….…..)

I think anything in this day and age that makes you stop and smell the grass / coffee is a good thing.

I enjoyed it so much I posted it to my cousin who I thought would like it too.  Admittedly the card I sent with it probably isn’t on message with the book itself which also looks at alcohol use / misuse – but hey ho, baby steps!!

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