Philip Jones, editor of The Bookseller and chair of the British Book Awards judges, said: “From Shuggie Bain to The Thursday Murder Club, from All the Lonely People to The Danger Gang, from Hamnet to Black and British, these were the books that answered the call during this period of turmoil, debate and hope.”
What if you had the chance to open a book and try another life you might have lived? In this life-affirming read, Nora Seed does just that. With so many regrets, she gets to see what could have been if she'd taken that job, joined her brother's band or stayed with that man, by selecting one of the many books forom the Midlight Library— a chance to start again. This one's a firm keeper for the bookshelf.
At 35, Nora Seed is stuck in her home town of Bedford, working in a dead-end job and living alone with her cat. When she attempts to take her own life, she finds herself transported to a celestial library whose shelves are lined with stories of roads not taken. Caught between life and death, she has the chance to try on different selves – the Nora she might have become had she stuck at swimming, or not walked away from that recording contract, or gone through with her wedding. Droll and philosophically inclined, she’s a protagonist to root for...
Haig is a hugely popular and prolific writer, the author of 18 novels for children and adults, and of seven works of non-fiction, including his best-selling 2015 book about depression, Reasons To Stay Alive; and The Midnight Library comes across mainly as a light-touch fictional reworking of Haig’s thinking about how human hearts, minds and souls can recover from a depressive crisis of meaning, which robs life of all its colour and joy, and any sense of its boundless potential. The book is not elegantly written, but the story has an engaging, page-turning quality, and the dialogue is often powerful and pithy, even if Mrs Elm’s library musings sometimes smack too much of homespun philosophy, or a positive thinking manual.
This is a streamlined novel; no side plots, no broad cast of characters, no twists of fantasy for the sheer joy of it. While the concept does fly high, it also flies straight. For those readers who might be put off by speculative fiction, The Midnight Library is a charming way into the genre... Contrary to the fantastical premise, the novel turns out to be a celebration of the ordinary: ordinary revelations, ordinary people, and the infinity of worlds seeded in ordinary choices.
The novel is not entirely successful, though. Nora learns many life lessons over the course of the story, and Haig rarely misses an opportunity to spell them out. He can be platitudinous at times, and his didactic approach occasionally undermines the novel’s appeal. It would be better if he trusted the reader more to draw their own conclusions from Nora’s adventures.
Nevertheless, The Midnight Library is a beguiling read, filled with warmth and humour, and a vibrant celebration of the power of books to change lives.