The Midnight Library

The Midnight Library


Engaging in therapy, it is quite common to look back on past choices and scan for patterns. Reflecting on past decisions often illuminates insights about the present and the future. Honest examination in this mode is a template for therapeutic change.

Let’s say a therapy client is working on a pattern of choosing unhealthy relationships. These relationships are important to explore in terms of how the client chooses partnerships and what the client’s role may be in participating in these substandard relational patterns. In this mode, it is common to look back and remember someone kind from one’s past. It is not unusual to remember a possible partner who was suitable and available and who expressed interest and to wonder – what if? It is often clinically valuable to reflect on past experiences and to be curious why dating someone kind and engaging was not the chosen path at the time.

Intensive reflection on the path not taken is the central theme of Matt Haig’s number one NYTimes best-selling book, The Midnight Library. Haig’s acclaimed memoir, Reasons to Stay Alive, is a candid study of his personal struggle with depression. Haig continues this exploration of depressive disorder in this compelling, memorable novel. Following a horrible day, angsty protagonist Nora Seed finds herself in a mysterious library. It’s midnight and she lingers somewhere between life and death. A beloved librarian from Nora’s past offers her the chance to read from a selection of books lining the library shelves in order to explore a series of what ifs. Each book represents its own unique do-over. What if she had stuck with swimming? What if she had not quit her band? What if she had moved to Australia or stayed in college, and received her philosophy degree?

Parallel universes exist in the Midnight Library, and why shouldn’t they? As Nora explains:

“’Everything in quantum mechanics and string theory all points to there being multiple universes. Many, many universes…’”

Haig weaves principles of metaphysics and philosophy into a compelling backdrop as Nora glides earnestly from one universe to the next. Between each life, she returns to The Midnight Library to reflect and recharge. As she excavates layers of regret about various paths not taken, her discoveries form a tale reminiscent of It’s a Wonderful Life and The Wizard of Oz. Both of these classic films teach that the answer to many individual struggles is often located in one’s own backyard. These and many other lessons flow from Nora’s tale, making The Midnight Library a magnificent and engaging therapeutic tool.

As Nora learns, “you could be as honest as possible in life, but people only see the truth if it is close enough to their reality. As Thoreau wrote, ‘It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.'”

Elisabeth LaMotte

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