Book Reviews and Highlights

The Midnight Library

Matt Haig

  • Fiction
  • Literary
  • Science Fiction
  • Time Travel
  • Women
  • Well, far be it from me to say, but there is more to this world than swimming really fast. There are many different possible lives ahead of you.
  • A Conversation About Rain | Page: 2
  • ‘You told me you had a cat,’ he said eventually. ‘Yes. I have a cat.’‘I remembered his name. Voltaire. A ginger tabby?’‘Yeah. I call him Volts. He finds Voltaire a bit pretentious. It turns out he’s not massively into eighteenth-century French philosophy and literature. He’s quite down-to-earth. You know. For a cat.’
  • The Man at the Door | Page: 6
  • ‘So, what happened?’ She gave the short version. ‘It was a lot of pressure.’‘Pressure makes us, though. You start off as coal and the pressure makes you a diamond.’
  • String Theory | Page: 9
  • She didn’t correct his knowledge of diamonds. She didn’t tell him that while coal and diamonds are both carbon, coal is too impure to be able, under whatever pressure, to become a diamond. According to science, you start off as coal and you end up as coal. Maybe that was the real-life lesson.
  • String Theory | Page: 9
  • ‘I don’t think your problem was stage fright. Or wedding fright. I think your problem was life fright.’ This hurt. The words took the air out of her.
  • Doors | Page: 15
  • Within a minute, Izzy had seen the message. Nora waited in vain for three dots to appear.
  • How to Be a Black Hole | Page: 17
  • Swimmer. Musician. Philosopher. Spouse. Traveller. Glaciologist. Happy. Loved.
  • Antimatter | Page: 21
  • Dear Whoever, I had all the chances to make something of my life, and I blew every one of them. Through my own carelessness and misfortune, the world has retreated from me, and so now it makes perfect sense that I should retreat from the world.
  • Antimatter | Page: 23
  • ‘Between life and death there is a library,’ she said. ‘And within that library, the shelves go on for ever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be different if you had made other choices . . . Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?’
  • The Midnight Library | Page: 29
  • ‘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.’
  • The Moving Shelves | Page: 31
  • ‘You have as many lives as you have possibilities. There are lives where you make different choices. And those choices lead to different outcomes. If you had done just one thing differently, you would have a different life story. And they all exist in the Midnight Library. They are all as real as this life.’
  • The Moving Shelves | Page: 31
  • So, do you want to live a life you could be living? Do you want to do something differently? Is there anything you wish to change? Did you do anything wrong?
  • The Moving Shelves | Page: 31
  • ‘I regret not learning how to be a happier person.’‘I regret feeling so much guilt.’‘I regret not sticking at Spanish.’‘I regret not choosing science subjects in my A-levels.’‘I regret not becoming a glaciologist.’‘I regret not getting married.’‘I regret not applying to do a Master’s degree in Philosophy at Cambridge.’‘I regret not keeping healthy.’‘I regret moving to London.’‘I regret not going to Paris to teach English.’‘I regret not finishing the novel I started at university.’‘I regret moving out of London.’‘I regret having a job with no prospects.’‘I regret not being a better sister.’‘I regret not having a gap year after university.’‘I regret disappointing my father.’‘I regret that I teach piano more than I play it.’‘I regret my financial mismanagement.’‘I regret not living in the countryside.’
  • The Book of Regrets | Page: 35
  • Deep down, she was scared of becoming her mother. She didn’t want to replicate her parents’ marriage.
  • Regret Overload | Page: 36
  • ‘Which regret stands out? Which decision would you like to undo? Which life would you like to try on?’
  • Every Life Begins Now | Page: 38
  • So: pick something you would have done differently, and I will find you the book. That is to say, the life.
  • Every Life Begins Now | Page: 39
  • 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.
  • The Three Horseshoes | Page: 48
  • ‘Want,’ she told her, in a measured tone, ‘is an interesting word. It means lack. Sometimes if we fill that lack with something else the original want disappears entirely. Maybe you have a lack problem rather than a want problem. Maybe there is a life that you really want to live.
  • The Chessboard | Page: 62
  • ‘Because, Nora, sometimes the only way to learn is to live.’
  • The Only Way to Learn Is to Live | Page: 67
  • The art of swimming – she supposed like any art – was about purity. The more focused you were on the activity, the less focused you were on everything else. You kind of stopped being you and became the thing you were doing.
  • Fire | Page: 72
  • Mrs Elm smiled, wryly. ‘It just shows you, doesn’t it?’‘Shows me what?’‘Well, that you can choose choices but not outcomes. But I stand by what I said. It was a good choice. It just wasn’t a desired outcome.’
  • Fish Tank | Page: 83
  • Fish get depressed when they have a lack of stimulation. A lack of everything. When they are just there, floating in a tank that resembles nothing at all.
  • Fish Tank | Page: 83
  • Maybe even suicide would have been too active. Maybe in some lives you just float around and expect nothing else and don’t even try to change. Maybe that was most lives.
  • Fish Tank | Page: 84
  • ‘Librarians have knowledge. They guide you to the right books. The right worlds. They find the best places. Like soul-enhanced search engines.’
  • Fish Tank | Page: 84
  • ‘The only way to learn is to live.’
  • Fish Tank | Page: 84
  • As soon as I started winning swimming races, I became seen and I didn’t want to be seen. And not only seen but seen in a swimsuit at the exact age you are self-obsessing about your body.
  • Fish Tank | Page: 85
  • ‘Never underestimate the big importance of small things,’ Mrs Elm said. ‘You must always remember that.’
  • Fish Tank | Page: 86
  • She had never imagined she could be like this, and tried to memorise what this other Nora was doing, but realised there was no way she would be able to.
  • The Successful Life | Page: 93
  • ‘People with stamina aren’t made any differently to anyone else,’ she was saying. ‘The only difference is they have a clear goal in mind, and a determination to get there. Stamina is essential to stay focused in a life filled with distraction. It is the ability to stick to a task when your body and mind are at their limit, the ability to keep your head down, swimming in your lane, without looking around, worrying who might overtake you . . .’
  • The Successful Life | Page: 93
  • It felt so empowering, to be that fit and strong and to have such mastery of the water, that she momentarily stopped worrying about her father and having to give a speech she really wasn’t prepared for.
  • The Successful Life | Page: 98
  • ‘Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.’
  • Peppermint Tea | Page: 104
  • ‘If one advances confidently,’ Thoreau had written in Walden, ‘in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.’
  • Walking in Circles | Page: 126
  • And that had led to them talking about social media – he believed that the more people were connected on social media, the lonelier society became.
  • Walking in Circles | Page: 127
  • And she knew then, more than she’d known anything, that she wasn’t ready to die.
  • The Frustration of Not Finding a Library When You Really Need One | Page: 132
  • To be part of nature was to be part of the will to live.
  • Island | Page: 134
  • When you stay too long in a place, you forget just how big an expanse the world is. You get no sense of the length of those longitudes and latitudes. Just as, she supposed, it is hard to have a sense of the vastness inside any one person.
  • Island | Page: 134
  • But once you sense that vastness, once something reveals it, hope emerges, whether you want it to or not, and it clings to you as stubbornly as lichen clings to rock.
  • Island | Page: 134
  • But he made a compromise with his dreams and settled there. The work may not have been glamorous, but it paid.
  • Permafrost | Page: 136
  • On both sides of her family there had been an unspoken belief that life was meant to fuck you over.
  • Permafrost | Page: 137
  • Maybe it wasn’t the lack of achievements that had made her and her brother’s parents unhappy, maybe it was the expectation to achieve in the first place.
  • Permafrost | Page: 138
  • Nora had always had a problem accepting herself. From as far back as she could remember, she’d had the sense that she wasn’t enough.
  • Expectation | Page: 143
  • She imagined, now, what it would be like to accept herself completely.
  • Expectation | Page: 143
  • She imagined seeing herself as just another brilliant freak of nature. Just another sentient animal, trying their best. And in doing so, she imagined what it was like to be free.
  • Expectation | Page: 143
  • ‘But you will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life,’ he said, wisely. ‘You’re quoting Camus.’‘You got me.’
  • Life and Death and the Quantum Wave Function | Page: 151
  • ‘Barriers?’‘Yes. You have a lot of them. They stop you from seeing the truth.’‘About what?’‘About yourself. And you really need to start trying. To see the truth. Because this matters.’
  • God and Other Librarians | Page: 155
  • ‘You need to pick the life you’d be most happy inside. Or soon there won’t be a choice at all.’
  • God and Other Librarians | Page: 155
  • Total fame was when you reached the point where looking like a hero, or genius, or god, required minimal effort.
  • Wild and Free | Page: 161
  • Every second of every day we are entering a new universe. And we spend so much time wishing our lives were different, comparing ourselves to other people and to other versions of ourselves, when really most lives contain degrees of good and degrees of bad.
  • The Podcast of Revelations | Page: 179
  • It seemed this was the life where her carbon footprint was the highest.
  • The Podcast of Revelations | Page: 180
  • ‘So, this is all about your brother?’‘No. It’s about everything. It seems impossible to live without hurting people.’‘That’s because it is.’‘So why live at all?’‘Well, in fairness, dying hurts people too. Now, what life do you want to choose next?’
  • Love and Pain | Page: 186
  • And even if you were a pawn – maybe we all are – then you should remember that a pawn is the most magical piece of all. It might look small and ordinary but it isn’t. Because a pawn is never just a pawn. A pawn is a queen-in-waiting. All you need to do is find a way to keep moving forward. One square after another.
  • Love and Pain | Page: 188
  • Equidistant. Equidistant. Equidistant. Not aligned to one bank or the other. That was how she had felt most of her life. Caught in the middle. Struggling, flailing, just trying to survive while not knowing which way to go. Which path to commit to without regret.
  • Equidistance | Page: 190
  • ‘You might need to stop worrying about other people’s approval, Nora,’ Mrs Elm said in a whisper, for added power and intimacy. ‘You don’t need a permission slip to be your—’
  • Someone Else’s Dream | Page: 193
  • Every life she had tried so far since entering the library had really been someone else’s dream.
  • Someone Else’s Dream | Page: 193
  • Maybe there was no perfect life for her, but somewhere, surely, there was a life worth living. And if she was to find a life truly worth living, she realised she would have to cast a wider net.
  • Someone Else’s Dream | Page: 194
  • In chess, as in life, possibility is the basis of everything. Every hope, every dream, every regret, every moment of living.
  • Someone Else’s Dream | Page: 195
  • It was as though she had reached some state of acceptance about life – that if there was a bad experience, there wouldn’t only be bad experiences. She realised that she hadn’t tried to end her life because she was miserable, but because she had managed to convince herself that there was no way out of her misery.
  • The Many Lives of Nora Seed | Page: 215
  • But with every life she saw that metaphorical door widen a little further as she grew better at using her imagination.
  • The Many Lives of Nora Seed | Page: 215
  • ‘So long as there are still books on the shelves, you are never trapped. Every book is a potential escape.’
  • Lost in the Library | Page: 218
  • ‘You don’t have to understand life. You just have to live it.’
  • Lost in the Library | Page: 218
  • ‘When you have worries about things you don’t know about, like the future, it’s a very good idea to remind yourself of things you do know.’
  • A Pearl in the Shell | Page: 225
  • Never underestimate the big importance of small things, Mrs Elm had said. You must always remember that.
  • An Incident With the Police | Page: 254
  • It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.
  • A New Way of Seeing | Page: 259
  • She had to try harder. She had to want the life she always thought she didn’t. Because just as this library was a part of her, so too were all the other lives.
  • Don’t You Dare Give Up, Nora Seed! | Page: 269
  • ‘Don’t give up! Don’t you dare give up, Nora Seed!’
  • Don’t You Dare Give Up, Nora Seed! | Page: 269
  • A truth that she scribbled hastily but firmly, pressing deep into the paper with the nib, in capital letters, in the first-person present tense.
  • Don’t You Dare Give Up, Nora Seed! | Page: 271
  • A truth that was the beginning and seed of everything possible. A former curse and a present blessing.
  • Don’t You Dare Give Up, Nora Seed! | Page: 271
  • Three simple words containing the power and potential of a multiverse. I AM ALIVE.
  • Don’t You Dare Give Up, Nora Seed! | Page: 271
  • It is not difficult to see yourself through the lens of other people, and to wish you were all the different kaleidoscopic versions of you they wanted you to be. It is easy to regret, and keep regretting, ad infinitum, until our time runs out.
  • A Thing I Have Learned (Written By A Nobody Who Has Been Everybody) | Page: 277
  • But it is not the lives we regret not living that are the real problem. It is the regret itself. It’s the regret that makes us shrivel and wither and feel like our own and other people’s worst enemy.
  • A Thing I Have Learned (Written By A Nobody Who Has Been Everybody) | Page: 277
  • Love and laughter and fear and pain are universal currencies.
  • A Thing I Have Learned (Written By A Nobody Who Has Been Everybody) | Page: 277
  • We just have to close our eyes and savour the taste of the drink in front of us and listen to the song as it plays. We are as completely and utterly alive as we are in any other life and have access to the same emotional spectrum.
  • A Thing I Have Learned (Written By A Nobody Who Has Been Everybody) | Page: 277
  • We don’t have to do everything in order to be everything, because we are already infinite. While we are alive we always contain a future of multifarious possibility.
  • A Thing I Have Learned (Written By A Nobody Who Has Been Everybody) | Page: 278
  • Will my life be miraculously free from pain, despair, grief, heartbreak, hardship, loneliness, depression? No. But do I want to live? Yes. Yes. A thousand times, yes.
  • A Thing I Have Learned (Written By A Nobody Who Has Been Everybody) | Page: 278
  • It is quite a revelation to discover that the place you wanted to escape to is the exact same place you escaped from. That the prison wasn’t the place, but the perspective.
  • The Volcano | Page: 284
  • And it was different because she no longer felt she was there simply to serve the dreams of other people. She no longer felt like she had to find sole fulfilment as some imaginary perfect daughter or sister or partner or wife or mother or employee or anything other than a human being, orbiting her own purpose, and answerable to herself.
  • The Volcano | Page: 284
  • And it was different because, above all other things, that heavy and painful Book of Regrets had been successfully burnt to dust.
  • The Volcano | Page: 285