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  • Writer's pictureJessica Taylor Yates

Book Review: The Midnight Library

Reading, not by a pool? It must be good!

Image: StudioCanal.

"Between life and death there is a library, 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?" (The Midnight Library).

So, full disclosure. I had not read a book in some time. I grew up being a kid who absolutely loved reading (BSC, anyone?), but life got in the way - that, and scrolling my phone mindlessly at night instead of opening a good book. I kept telling myself that tomorrow I will read this or that, screen-shotting books I was interested in, but still, tv or my phone always seemed to take precedence. It's like I had associated it with a chore, like the gym or getting through the atrocity that is Sex/Life.

I'm so glad that phase is over.

This year, a few of my girlfriends set up a book club. I think what we all like is that there isn't a hell of a lot of pressure around it (eight weeks to read minimum) and we are friends who get together to talk about books we like (over wine cos obvs). So this time, we did:

I loved it.

What's it about?

The best way for me to give an elevator pitch about this whimsical book (cos it is so clearly gonna be a movie) is that it has very deep and philosophical themes explained in simplistic language. It focuses on a 30-something woman named Nora Seed, who was full of potential that she feels she never quite reached. She was such a promising swimmer she may have been an Olympian, was so smart she could have been a glaciologist, so musically talented she could have been a rock star, so in love she could be happily married, and instead she

Nora currently works in a music shop she has worked in since finishing school, lives in an apartment with a cat that has just died, is mourning the loss of her parents who passed and her brother no longer speaks to her. After being let go and continuously looking over a life of regret, missed opportunities, depressed and feeling her best days were never realised, she decides to end her life.

Except, it doesn't end. She winds up in The Midnight Library.

What is The Midnight Library?

This is a limbo, of sorts. The Midnight Library, set somewhere between life and death, is filled with 'regrets' manifested in books of the paths Nora could have taken in her life. If only she had continued swimming lessons, the green book will show how her life would have panned out. If only she went to Australia on a gap year with her best mate, the blue book will show how her life would have gone. In essence, she is given the opportunity to live out her former potential and her 'regrets' to see how her life would have worked out differently - and can choose to stay in one of these lives if she chooses.

What are the themes?

Whilst at times funny, the book explores themes of loneliness, depression, isolation and regret, but also, possibility and the celebration of life itself.

On the surface, the book could just be about exploring different worlds and fantasies. I found myself pausing frequently while reading thinking of times in my own life (narcissist that I am) and my own sliding-doors moments. Because we all have them. What if I had gone on that trip? Studied that course? Said yes to that date? Driven the other way? Life is full of choices, regrets and potential, and the book explores how each action impacts the next.

Of course, this isn't an entirely new concept. The 'butterfly effect,' as it were, was explored in the movie of the same name, in Sliding Doors, and of course, the greatest film of all time, Back To The Future. But I think what I liked about this was how it was exploring the regrets we live with on a daily basis, and how while we often think of what was lost, we don't think about what we do have, or why we did make the choices we made.

Can I relate to it?

Or, 'How to insert yourself in the story.'

Case in point. In 2015, I was all set to move to Los Angeles. I had taken a course especially to get a certain Visa, had lined up a job and a car, and was ready to resign and take off. I had spent my life obsessed with everything film, music and entertainment, and after studying there for a period of time, was ready to make the move permanent with glittering dreams of making it in Hollywood.

And then, annoyingly, the love of my life came along.

When we first met, I informed him that I was moving and so this couldn't be serious.

Six weeks later, he asked me to wait for him for a year, and that he would come with me.

I was hesitant. I had never had much luck in the romance department, and LA had been my dream for so long. We weighed up the options of both of us going a year later and working, where we would live, what we do and where we would stay. But as the months went on, logistically it was no longer possible. I had to make a choice.

In the end, I went for two months without him until he joined me. I thought having that time to myself in LA would help me reassess what I wanted, have time to do what I set out to do, have some work time, maybe stay.

In truth, I hated every minute of it. Because now, everything was different.

This isn't a dig at being a cool, independent career woman. Froth that. It's just that my life now had someone else in it who had become my absolute best friend and partner in crime. I had a choice - and I chose him.

And yeah. Sometimes my mind wanders, thinking, what would have happened if I stayed? If I had gone to LA and really given it a shot? I think when I was younger, this paralysed me a bit more with visions, or perhaps, delusions, of grandeur. But now, a marriage, a house and almost seven years later - I'd do it again. I would pick someone who would have made that same choice to change their whole life for me over and over.

(Weirdly when I asked him, he doesn't have regrets. Imagine living this way! I regret waving to someone I thought was my friend but wasn't across the road yesterday, because now we obviously need to move countries).

Realistically, now when I try to visualise it, I'm probably a media assistant on shit money living in a drug-addled apartment, in a pandemic run by a crazed ego-driven maniac, going on dates with douchebag bros and missing my family while telling everyone how tubular LA is on Instagram.

Or maybe I'm not. Maybe I truly made it and have Oscars and married Zac Efron (Can you tell I rate my potential highly?) I'll never know, and that's the thing with choices and regrets. The possibility of the unknown. I know there were some friends or family who seemed a bit dismayed I didn't go. Sometimes, in down moments I'll regret it, or think that I had or have potential that could be better used in LA than on writing book reviews from my couch on a Friday at 10:30pm. But sometimes with these sliding doors moments, where you are the one in control, I think you have to come to the decision that if you had truly, truly wanted it - you would have done it (given you had the opportunity, means etc.) And so given the decision, I would choose my life in the burbs with him a million times over. And this is essentially what the book is all about.

Should I read it?

In each life she explores, Nora realises the repercussions that come with these decisions, because while we can fantasize about 'If only I had picked those winning numbers,’ or 'If only I bought that house before the boom,' - no life is perfect. Without spoiling anything, you could choose the life where you followed your Hollywood dreams and became an Oscar winning actress - but maybe a parent passed away on the plane to come watch your speech. Or maybe you meet the love of your life, but the steps along the way mean your sibling never meets theirs.

The point is, while it is human to live with regret and untapped potential, you still have a life right now that is here to be lived, and no other version of you is perfect or living the perfect existence. And a lof of us are pretty damn lucky underneath it all. This life is full of plenty of potential waiting to be explored - like, there's new Krispy Kreme TV Snacks to try, and Sex Education S3 to watch soon. It just helps to center you and remind you of what is important.

Although, now that you mention it, I can't help but wonder a la Carrie Bradshaw how nice it would be to write this from my LA mansion, or tell you how I'm starring in this cool book adaptation about a library ...

4.5/5 stars for mine.


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