My book club just finished “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig. It was… wow. The book introduced the idea of parallel realities and that there could be multiple versions of everyone living simultaneously. It’s fascinating, yet overwhelming to really consider how every single decision we make shapes our world and that making a decision will permanently alter everything afterwards.
In this fiction story, readers meet Nora Seed: a depressed, middle-aged woman living in London. In fact, Nora is so depressed and unhappy with her life, she takes it. It was a dark opening chapter and I instantly became anxious reading it. I hadn’t realized there was going to be a suicide in the book, especially so early on. I worried this would trigger someone in my book club. Thankfully it didn’t.
After Nora takes her life, she ends up in this library filled with books. She quickly learns – thanks to the sweet old librarian – that all of these books contain stories of the different realities she could be living. Trippy, right?
“Every life contains many millions of decisions. Some big, some small. But every time one decision is taken over another, the outcomes differ. An irreversible variation occurs, which in turn leads to further variations. These books are portals to all the lives you could be living,” (pg. 31).
As this abnormal circumstance begins to sink in for Nora, the librarian hands her another book titled “The Book of Regrets”. It’s filled with – you guessed it – all the regrets Nora had in her “root life”. As she flips through it, her anxiety rises and she remembers why she took her life to begin with, but the librarian snaps her out of it and tells her it’s time to make a decision. Nora gets to pick another reality to live in.
As the book progresses, readers watch Nora traverse through different realities as a citizen in Australia populating the coast, a former Olympian swimmer giving inspirational speeches, a glaciologist fighting climate change, a famous musician in a well-known band, a dog-walker, a writer, a mom, etc . Yet none of these lives satisfy Nora and after only a short time in each reality she ends up back in the midnight library.
It made us wonder, in my book club, what would our book of regrets contain? Where would our “in-between” place be? Would who be there? What other realities would be want to inhabit?
“Because just as this library was a part of her, so too were all the other lives. She might not have felt everything she had felt in those lives, but she had the capability. She might have missed those particular opportunities that led her to become an Olympic swimmer, or a traveller, or a vineyard owner, or a rock star, or a planet-saving glaciologist, or a Cambridge graduate, or a mother, or the million other things, but she was still in some way all of those people. They were all her. She could have been all those amazing things, and that wasn’t depressing, as she had once thought. Not at all. It was inspiring. Because now she saw the kinds of things she could do when she put herself to work. And that, actually, the life she had been living had its own logic to it. What sometimes feels like a trap is actually just a trick of the mind. She just needed potential. And she was nothing if not potential. She wondered why she had never seen it before,” (pg.269).
It was strangely comforting to read Nora’s discontentment with her different realities and then how in the end she returns to her root life and decides not to take it fore-granted. Of course, it made me think of all the different realities I could be in right now, had I made different decisions than what I have. But as far as we know, we only get one shot at this whole life thing, one chance to make it meaningful and impactful and worthwhile and enjoyable and beautiful. And no matter which reality I live in, I want to soak it all up and make the most of it while trying not to worry too much about my own book of regrets.