Editor’s Note: This piece contains mention of suicide.
As Vanderbilt students, there’s one thing we all have in common—we’re nerds. Don’t start internally battling with me on this just yet, odds are every one of us can look back nostalgically to our glory days as middle-school high achievers and remember when we used to pick up fiction books and genuinely enjoy reading them. As the Life Staff, we’re on a quest to find that feeling again, and that starts with picking up a book. Our staffers (with various literary interests and preferences) will be churning through novels of their own and publishing their candid reviews in the Hustler’s newest series: “I’ll Read Anything.” Read on to find a book that’s worthwhile and embrace your middle school nerd again (minus the braces).
Do you ever wish you could just go back in time and change one thing about your life?
In “The Midnight Library,” Nora Seed’s life is filled with regret. Faced with a brother who no longer talks to her, a friend that lives on the opposite side of the world and a cat who just died, Nora feels deep sadness. She is constantly asking herself: what if she got married instead of breaking up with her fiancé? What if she would have continued on with swimming? What if she became a rock star?
These constant “what-ifs” circling Nora’s mind lead the protagonist to attempt suicide. Between life and death, Nora finds herself in what is called the Midnight Library, where each book in the library contains a different life based on a decision Nora has made in the past. By opening a book, Nora is able to live out her regrets to see how her life would be different. Nora experiences many different lives: becoming a rock star, olympic swimmer and, even, a glaciologist. She begins to understand that her actions have implications for other people. Maybe it is for the best that her and her brother currently are not on speaking terms and that her friend lives across the country. By living out different lives, Nora starts to learn that a different life does not always mean a better life.
However, there is a caveat to the Midnight Library: Nora must have hope for a future life. The more she loses hope, the closer she moves to death. If Nora loses too much hope, the whole library will come tumbling to the ground. In a struggle between infinite possibility and limited hope, Nora must find a life that she believes is worth living.
Although this book may sound a little dark, as you read the story, you quickly learn its real intent: to be uplifting and inspirational. At the beginning of the book, I felt a lot of sadness and grief. However, these emotions ultimately allowed me to connect with Nora’s character. By having the reader empathize with the protagonist, the narrative communicates that sadness is a necessary part of life.
With the characters having so much depth and relatability, this book took me on a rollercoaster of emotions. That said, this may not be the book for you, if you are looking for a light, beach read.
As for the difficult, yet important, topic of suicide, the author, Matt Haig, addressed mental health in a sensitive, honest way. This book taught me to find greater appreciation in the beauty of life, to love the life that I currently have and to reconsider the “what ifs” present in my mind. As mental illness is skyrocketing due to the pandemic, I believe that this book is more than ever an essential read. The Midnight Library will inspire you, make you question your own beliefs and cause you to see life in a whole different light.