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The Midnight Library

A GMA Book Club Pick (A Novel)

Author Matt Haig
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On sale Sep 29, 2020 | 8 Hours and 51 Minutes | 978-0-593-34023-3
The #1 New York Times bestselling WORLDWIDE phenomenon

Winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction | A Good Morning America Book Club Pick | Independent (London) Ten Best Books of the Year

"A feel-good book guaranteed to lift your spirits."—The Washington Post

The dazzling reader-favorite about the choices that go into a life well lived, from the acclaimed author of How To Stop Time and The Comfort Book.


Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig's enchanting blockbuster novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

A Conversation About Rain

 

Nineteen years before she decided to die, Nora Seed sat in the warmth of the small library at Hazeldene School in the town of Bedford. She sat at a low table staring at a chess board.

 

'Nora dear, it's natural to worry about your future,' said the librarian, Mrs Elm, her eyes twinkling.

 

Mrs Elm made her first move. A knight hopping over the neat row of white pawns. 'Of course, you're going to be worried about the exams. But you could be anything you want to be, Nora. Think of all that possibility. It's exciting.'

 

'Yes. I suppose it is.'

 

'A whole life in front of you.'

 

'A whole life.'

 

'You could do anything, live anywhere. Somewhere a bit less cold and wet.'

 

Nora pushed a pawn forward two spaces.

 

It was hard not to compare Mrs Elm to her mother, who treated Nora like a mistake in need of correction. For instance, when she was a baby her mother had been so worried Nora's left ear stuck out more than her right that she'd used sticky tape to address the situation, then disguised it beneath a woollen bonnet.

 

'I hate the cold and wet,' added Mrs Elm, for emphasis.

 

Mrs Elm had short grey hair and a kind and mildly crinkled oval face sitting pale above her turtle-green polo neck. She was quite old. But she was also the person most on Nora's wavelength in the entire school, and even on days when it wasn't raining she would spend her afternoon break in the small library.

 

'Coldness and wetness don't always go together,' Nora told her. 'Antarctica is the driest continent on Earth. Technically, it's a desert.'

 

'Well, that sounds up your street.'

 

'I don't think it's far enough away.'

 

'Well, maybe you should be an astronaut. Travel the galaxy.'

 

Nora smiled. 'The rain is even worse on other planets.'

 

'Worse than Bedfordshire?'

 

'On Venus it is pure acid.'

 

Mrs Elm pulled a paper tissue from her sleeve and delicately blew her nose. 'See? With a brain like yours you can do anything.'

 

A blond boy Nora recognised from a couple of years below her ran past outside the rain-speckled window. Either chasing someone or being chased. Since her brother had left, she'd felt a bit unguarded out there. The library was a little shelter of civilisation.

 

'Dad thinks I've thrown everything away. Now I've stopped swimming.'

 

'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. Like I said last week, you could be a glaciologist. I've been researching and the-'

 

And it was then that the phone rang.

 

'One minute,' said Mrs Elm, softly. 'I'd better get that.'

 

A moment later, Nora watched Mrs Elm on the phone. 'Yes. She's here now.' The librarian's face fell in shock. She turned away from Nora, but her words were audible across the hushed room: 'Oh no. No. Oh my God. Of course . . .'

 

 

Nineteen Years Later

The Man at the Door

 

Twenty-seven hours before she decided to die, Nora Seed sat on her dilapidated sofa scrolling through other people's happy lives, waiting for something to happen. And then, out of nowhere, something actually did.

 

Someone, for whatever peculiar reason, rang her doorbell.

 

She wondered for a moment if she shouldn't get the door at all. She was, after all, already in her night clothes even though it was only nine p.m. She felt self-conscious about her over-sized ECO WORRIER T-shirt and her tartan pyjama bottoms.

 

She put on her slippers, to be slightly more civilised, and discovered that the person at the door was a man, and one she recognised.

 

He was tall and gangly and boyish, with a kind face, but his eyes were sharp and bright, like they could see through things.

 

It was good to see him, if a little surprising, especially as he was wearing sports gear and he looked hot and sweaty despite the cold, rainy weather. The juxtaposition between them made her feel even more slovenly than she had done five seconds earlier.

 

But she'd been feeling lonely. And though she'd studied enough existential philosophy to believe loneliness was a fundamental part of being a human in an essentially meaningless universe, it was good to see him.

 

'Ash,' she said, smiling. 'It's Ash, isn't it?'

 

'Yes. It is.'

 

'What are you doing here? It's good to see you.'

 

A few weeks ago she'd been sat playing her electric piano and he'd run down Bancroft Avenue and had seen her in the window here at 33A and given her a little wave. He had once - years ago - asked her out for a coffee. Maybe he was about to do that again.

 

'It's good to see you too,' he said, but his tense forehead didn't show it.

 

When she'd spoken to him in the shop, he'd always sounded breezy, but now his voice contained something heavy. He scratched his brow. Made another sound but didn't quite manage a full word.

 

'You running?' A pointless question. He was clearly out for a run. But he seemed relieved, momentarily, to have something trivial to say.

 

'Yeah. I'm doing the Bedford Half. It's this Sunday.'

 

'Oh right. Great. I was thinking of doing a half-marathon and then I remembered I hate running.'

 

This had sounded funnier in her head than it did as actual words being vocalised out of her mouth. She didn't even hate running. But still, she was perturbed to see the seriousness of his expression. The silence went beyond awkward into something else.

 

'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.'

 

Ash looked down at her slippers.

 

'I'm afraid I think he's dead.'

 

'What?'

 

'He's lying very still by the side of the road. I saw the name on the collar, I think a car might have hit him. I'm sorry, Nora.'

 

She was so scared of her sudden switch in emotions right then that she kept smiling, as if the smile could keep her in the world she had just been in, the one where Volts was alive and where this man she'd sold guitar songbooks to had rung her doorbell for another reason.

 

Ash, she remembered, was a surgeon. Not a veterinary one, a general human one. If he said something was dead it was, in all probability, dead.

 

'I'm so sorry.'

 

Nora had a familiar sense of grief. Only the sertraline stopped her crying. 'Oh God.'

 

She stepped out onto the wet cracked paving slabs of Bancroft Avenue, hardly breathing, and saw the poor ginger-furred creature lying on the rain-glossed tarmac beside the kerb. His head grazed the side of the pavement and his legs were back as if in mid-gallop, chasing some imaginary bird.

 

'Oh Volts. Oh no. Oh God.'

 

She knew she should be experiencing pity and despair for her feline friend - and she was - but she had to acknowledge something else. As she stared at Voltaire's still and peaceful expression - that total absence of pain - there was an inescapable feeling brewing in the darkness.

 

Envy.

 

 

String Theory

 

Nine and a half hours before she decided to die, Nora arrived late for her afternoon shift at String Theory.

 

'I'm sorry,' she told Neil, in the scruffy little windowless box of an office. 'My cat died. Last night. And I had to bury him. Well, someone helped me bury him. But then I was left alone in my flat and I couldn't sleep and forgot to set the alarm and didn't wake up till midday and then had to rush.'

 

This was all true, and she imagined her appearance - including make-up-free face, loose makeshift ponytail and the same second-hand green corduroy pinafore dress she had worn to work all week, garnished with a general air of tired despair - would back her up.

 

Neil looked up from his computer and leaned back in his chair. He joined his hands together and made a steeple of his index fingers, which he placed under his chin, as if he was Confucius contemplating a deep philosophical truth about the universe rather than the boss of a musical equipment shop dealing with a late employee. There was a massive Fleetwood Mac poster on the wall behind him, the top right corner of which had come unstuck and flopped down like a puppy's ear.

 

'Listen, Nora, I like you.'

 

Neil was harmless. A fifty-something guitar aficionado who liked cracking bad jokes and playing passable old Dylan covers live in the store.

 

'And I know you've got mental-health stuff.'

 

'Everyone's got mental-health stuff.'

 

'You know what I mean.'

 

'I'm feeling much better, generally,' she lied. 'It's not clinical. The doctor says it's situational depression. It's just that I keep on having new . . . situations. But I haven't taken a day off sick for it all. Apart from when my mum . . . Yeah. Apart from that.'

 

Neil sighed. When he did so he made a whistling sound out of his nose. An ominous B flat. 'Nora, how long have you worked here?'

 

'Twelve years and . . .' - she knew this too well - '. . . eleven months and three days. On and off.'

 

'That's a long time. I feel like you are made for better things. You're in your late thirties.'

 

'I'm thirty-five.'

 

'You've got so much going for you. You teach people piano . . .'

 

'One person.'

 

He brushed a crumb off his sweater.

 

'Did you picture yourself stuck in your hometown working in a shop? You know, when you were fourteen? What did you picture yourself as?'

 

'At fourteen? A swimmer.' She'd been the fastest fourteen-year-old girl in the country at breaststroke and second-fastest at freestyle. She remembered standing on a podium at the National Swimming Championships.

 

'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.'

 

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.

 

She smoothed a stray strand of her coal-black hair up towards her ponytail.

 

'What are you saying, Neil?'

 

'It's never too late to pursue a dream.'

 

'Pretty sure it's too late to pursue that one.'

 

'You're a very well qualified person, Nora. Degree in Philosophy . . .'

 

Nora stared down at the small mole on her left hand. That mole had been through everything she'd been through. And it just stayed there, not caring. Just being a mole. 'Not a massive demand for philosophers in Bedford, if I'm honest, Neil.'

 

'You went to uni, had a year in London, then came back.'

 

'I didn't have much of a choice.'

 

Nora didn't want a conversation about her dead mum. Or even Dan. Because Neil had found Nora's backing out of a wedding with two days' notice the most fascinating love story since Kurt and Courtney.

 

'We all have choices, Nora. There's such a thing as free will.'

 

'Well, not if you subscribe to a deterministic view of the universe.'

 

'But why here?'

 

'It was either here or the Animal Rescue Centre. This paid better. Plus, you know, music.'

 

'You were in a band. With your brother.'

 

'I was. The Labyrinths. We weren't really going anywhere.'

 

'Your brother tells a different story.'

 

This took Nora by surprise. 'Joe? How do you-'

 

'He bought an amp. Marshall DSL40.'

 

'When?'

 

'Friday.'

 

'He was in Bedford?'

 

'Unless it was a hologram. Like Tupac.'

 

He was probably visiting Ravi, Nora thought. Ravi was her brother's best friend. While Joe had given up the guitar and moved to London, for a crap IT job he hated, Ravi had stuck to Bedford. He played in a covers band now, called Slaughterhouse Four, doing pub gigs around town.

 

'Right. That's interesting.'

 

Nora was pretty certain her brother knew Friday was her day off. The fact prodded her from inside.

 

'I'm happy here.'

 

'Except you aren't.'

 

He was right. A soul-sickness festered within her. Her mind was throwing itself up. She widened her smile.

 

'I mean, I am happy with the job. Happy as in, you know, satisfied. Neil, I need this job.'

 

'You are a good person. You worry about the world. The homeless, the environment.'

 

'I need a job.'

 

He was back in his Confucius pose. 'You need freedom.'

 

'I don't want freedom.'

 

'This isn't a non-profit organisation. Though I have to say it is rapidly becoming one.'

 

'Look, Neil, is this about what I said the other week? About you needing to modernise things? I've got some ideas of how to get younger peo-'

 

'No,' he said, defensively. 'This place used to just be guitars. String Theory, get it? I diversified. Made this work. It's just that when times are tough I can't pay you to put off customers with your face looking like a wet weekend.'

 

'What?'

 

'I'm afraid, Nora' - he paused for a moment, about the time it takes to lift an axe into the air - 'I'm going to have to let you go.'

 

 

To Live Is to Suffer

 

Nine hours before she decided to die, Nora wandered around Bedford aimlessly. The town was a conveyor belt of despair. The pebble-dashed sports centre where her dead dad once watched her swim lengths of the pool, the Mexican restaurant where she'd taken Dan for fajitas, the hospital where her mum had her treatment.

 

Dan had texted her yesterday.

 

Nora, I miss your voice. Can we talk? D x

 

She'd said she was stupidly hectic (big lol). Yet it was impossible to text anything else. Not because she didn't still feel for him, but because she did. And couldn't risk hurting him again. She'd ruined his life. My life is chaos, he'd told her, via drunk texts, shortly after the would-be wedding she'd pulled out of two days before.

 

The universe tended towards chaos and entropy. That was basic thermodynamics. Maybe it was basic existence too.

 

You lose your job, then more shit happens.

 

The wind whispered through the trees.

 

It began to rain.

 

She headed towards the shelter of a newsagent's, with the deep - and, as it happened, correct - sense that things were about to get worse.

An instant New York Times bestseller
Winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction

A GOOD MORNING AMERICA Book Club Pick!
One of the LibraryReads 2020 Voter Favorites
Independent (London) One of Ten Best Books of the Year

Included in best-of-year and year-end roundups by The Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, New York Public Library, Amazon, Boston Globe, PureWow, St. Louis Public Radio, She Reads, Lit Hub, The Mary Sue, and more


“Whimsical.” —Washington Post, named one of the 15 Feel-Good Books Guaranteed to Lift Your Spirits

"An absorbing but comfortable read...a vision of limitless possibility, of new roads taken, of new lives lived, of a whole different world available to us somehow, somewhere, might be exactly what’s wanted in these troubled and troubling times.” —The New York Times

“Charming...a celebration of the ordinary: ordinary revelations, ordinary people, and the infinity of worlds seeded in ordinary choices.” —The Guardian

“A brilliant premise and great fun.” —Daily Mail

"This book really makes you think all about our choices in life and that big question of “Where would I be if I had made a different choice?” It’s a book that definitely made me self-reflect." --
Millie Bobbie Brown actor and author of Nineteen Steps

"I can't describe how much his work means to me. So necessary...[Matt Haig is] the king of empathy." Jameela Jamil, actor and host of I Weigh with Jameela Jamil

“A beautiful fable, an It’s a Wonderful Life for the modern age – impossibly timely when we are all stuck in a world we wish could be different.” —Jodi Picoult, author of My Sister's Keeper

“This brainy, captivating pleasure read feels like what you might get if TV’s The Good Place collided with Where’d You Go, Bernadette.” —People

Thanks to the storytelling chops of writer Matt Haig, The Midnight Library is an engaging read, full of gentle insights and soothing wisdom… This is a book about shedding regret by gaining perspective. It’s full of quirky plot lines, with glimpses of opportunities and potential in unexpected places and people.” —Psychology Today

A charming book.” —Dolly Parton, award-winning singer-songwriter

“Although I don’t read fiction as much as I used to—because I’m always writing fiction—during these sad and difficult days in 2020 I broke that rule because I needed to ­escape into other people’s fictional worlds. One of my favorite books of the year was "The Midnight Library" by Matt Haig, a powerful and uplifting story about regrets and the choices we make.”—Alice Hoffman, author of Magic Lessons and Practical Magic

“Clever, emotional and thought-inspiring.” —Jenny Colgan, author of The Bookshop on the Corner

“Amazing and utterly beautiful, The Midnight Library is everything you'd expect from the genius storyteller who is Matt Haig.” —Joanna Cannon, author of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep

“Nora’s life is burdened by regrets. Then she stumbles on a library with books that enable her to test out the lives she could have led, including as a glaciologist, Olympic swimmer, rock star, and more. Her discoveries ultimately prove life-affirming in Matt Haig’s dazzling fantasy.” —Christian Science Monitor

“Would we really make better choices if we could step back in time? Matt Haig’s thought-provoking, uplifting new book, The Midnight Library discusses just that, exploring our relationship with regret and what really makes a perfect life.” —Harper's Bazaar (UK)

“British author Matt Haig is beloved in his home country, and he’s a champion of mental health, which makes him a great person to follow on Twitter. He’s best known for the novel How to Stop Time, but he has a new novel just out on September 29 called The Midnight Library, which sounds equally intriguing. In this library, Nora Seed finds endless books which contain different versions of the life she could have lived. This is a must-read for those of us given to endless what ifs.” —BookRiot

“Haig is one of the most inspirational popular writers on mental health of our age and, in his latest novel, he has taken a clever, engaging concept and created a heart-warming story that offers wisdom in the same deceptively simple way as Mitch Albom's best tales.” —Independent (UK)

"Just beautiful . . . Such a gorgeous, gorgeous book.” —Fearne Cotton, host of the BBC Radio 1 Chart Show  

"A highly original, thought-provoking novel..." -- Independent (London)

"[The Midnight Library] will follow in the bestselling footsteps of Haig’s earlier books . . . Part Sliding Doors, part-philosophical quest, this is a moving novel with a powerful mental health message at its heart.” —Alice O’Keeffe, The Bookseller

“Haig’s latest (after the nonfiction collection Notes on a Nervous Planet, 2019) is a stunning contemporary story that explores the choices that make up a life, and the regrets that can stifle it. A compelling novel that will resonate with readers.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Charming...[Matt Haig] will reward readers who take this book off the shelf.” —Publisher's Weekly
© Kan Lailey
Matt Haig is the author of the internationally bestselling memoir Reasons to Stay Alive and Notes on a Nervous Planet, along with six novels, including How To Stop Time, and several award-winning children's books. His work has been translated into thirty languages. View titles by Matt Haig

About

The #1 New York Times bestselling WORLDWIDE phenomenon

Winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction | A Good Morning America Book Club Pick | Independent (London) Ten Best Books of the Year

"A feel-good book guaranteed to lift your spirits."—The Washington Post

The dazzling reader-favorite about the choices that go into a life well lived, from the acclaimed author of How To Stop Time and The Comfort Book.


Somewhere out beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life. While we all wonder how our lives might have been, what if you had the chance to go to the library and see for yourself? Would any of these other lives truly be better?

In The Midnight Library, Matt Haig's enchanting blockbuster novel, Nora Seed finds herself faced with this decision. Faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist; she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

Excerpt

A Conversation About Rain

 

Nineteen years before she decided to die, Nora Seed sat in the warmth of the small library at Hazeldene School in the town of Bedford. She sat at a low table staring at a chess board.

 

'Nora dear, it's natural to worry about your future,' said the librarian, Mrs Elm, her eyes twinkling.

 

Mrs Elm made her first move. A knight hopping over the neat row of white pawns. 'Of course, you're going to be worried about the exams. But you could be anything you want to be, Nora. Think of all that possibility. It's exciting.'

 

'Yes. I suppose it is.'

 

'A whole life in front of you.'

 

'A whole life.'

 

'You could do anything, live anywhere. Somewhere a bit less cold and wet.'

 

Nora pushed a pawn forward two spaces.

 

It was hard not to compare Mrs Elm to her mother, who treated Nora like a mistake in need of correction. For instance, when she was a baby her mother had been so worried Nora's left ear stuck out more than her right that she'd used sticky tape to address the situation, then disguised it beneath a woollen bonnet.

 

'I hate the cold and wet,' added Mrs Elm, for emphasis.

 

Mrs Elm had short grey hair and a kind and mildly crinkled oval face sitting pale above her turtle-green polo neck. She was quite old. But she was also the person most on Nora's wavelength in the entire school, and even on days when it wasn't raining she would spend her afternoon break in the small library.

 

'Coldness and wetness don't always go together,' Nora told her. 'Antarctica is the driest continent on Earth. Technically, it's a desert.'

 

'Well, that sounds up your street.'

 

'I don't think it's far enough away.'

 

'Well, maybe you should be an astronaut. Travel the galaxy.'

 

Nora smiled. 'The rain is even worse on other planets.'

 

'Worse than Bedfordshire?'

 

'On Venus it is pure acid.'

 

Mrs Elm pulled a paper tissue from her sleeve and delicately blew her nose. 'See? With a brain like yours you can do anything.'

 

A blond boy Nora recognised from a couple of years below her ran past outside the rain-speckled window. Either chasing someone or being chased. Since her brother had left, she'd felt a bit unguarded out there. The library was a little shelter of civilisation.

 

'Dad thinks I've thrown everything away. Now I've stopped swimming.'

 

'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. Like I said last week, you could be a glaciologist. I've been researching and the-'

 

And it was then that the phone rang.

 

'One minute,' said Mrs Elm, softly. 'I'd better get that.'

 

A moment later, Nora watched Mrs Elm on the phone. 'Yes. She's here now.' The librarian's face fell in shock. She turned away from Nora, but her words were audible across the hushed room: 'Oh no. No. Oh my God. Of course . . .'

 

 

Nineteen Years Later

The Man at the Door

 

Twenty-seven hours before she decided to die, Nora Seed sat on her dilapidated sofa scrolling through other people's happy lives, waiting for something to happen. And then, out of nowhere, something actually did.

 

Someone, for whatever peculiar reason, rang her doorbell.

 

She wondered for a moment if she shouldn't get the door at all. She was, after all, already in her night clothes even though it was only nine p.m. She felt self-conscious about her over-sized ECO WORRIER T-shirt and her tartan pyjama bottoms.

 

She put on her slippers, to be slightly more civilised, and discovered that the person at the door was a man, and one she recognised.

 

He was tall and gangly and boyish, with a kind face, but his eyes were sharp and bright, like they could see through things.

 

It was good to see him, if a little surprising, especially as he was wearing sports gear and he looked hot and sweaty despite the cold, rainy weather. The juxtaposition between them made her feel even more slovenly than she had done five seconds earlier.

 

But she'd been feeling lonely. And though she'd studied enough existential philosophy to believe loneliness was a fundamental part of being a human in an essentially meaningless universe, it was good to see him.

 

'Ash,' she said, smiling. 'It's Ash, isn't it?'

 

'Yes. It is.'

 

'What are you doing here? It's good to see you.'

 

A few weeks ago she'd been sat playing her electric piano and he'd run down Bancroft Avenue and had seen her in the window here at 33A and given her a little wave. He had once - years ago - asked her out for a coffee. Maybe he was about to do that again.

 

'It's good to see you too,' he said, but his tense forehead didn't show it.

 

When she'd spoken to him in the shop, he'd always sounded breezy, but now his voice contained something heavy. He scratched his brow. Made another sound but didn't quite manage a full word.

 

'You running?' A pointless question. He was clearly out for a run. But he seemed relieved, momentarily, to have something trivial to say.

 

'Yeah. I'm doing the Bedford Half. It's this Sunday.'

 

'Oh right. Great. I was thinking of doing a half-marathon and then I remembered I hate running.'

 

This had sounded funnier in her head than it did as actual words being vocalised out of her mouth. She didn't even hate running. But still, she was perturbed to see the seriousness of his expression. The silence went beyond awkward into something else.

 

'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.'

 

Ash looked down at her slippers.

 

'I'm afraid I think he's dead.'

 

'What?'

 

'He's lying very still by the side of the road. I saw the name on the collar, I think a car might have hit him. I'm sorry, Nora.'

 

She was so scared of her sudden switch in emotions right then that she kept smiling, as if the smile could keep her in the world she had just been in, the one where Volts was alive and where this man she'd sold guitar songbooks to had rung her doorbell for another reason.

 

Ash, she remembered, was a surgeon. Not a veterinary one, a general human one. If he said something was dead it was, in all probability, dead.

 

'I'm so sorry.'

 

Nora had a familiar sense of grief. Only the sertraline stopped her crying. 'Oh God.'

 

She stepped out onto the wet cracked paving slabs of Bancroft Avenue, hardly breathing, and saw the poor ginger-furred creature lying on the rain-glossed tarmac beside the kerb. His head grazed the side of the pavement and his legs were back as if in mid-gallop, chasing some imaginary bird.

 

'Oh Volts. Oh no. Oh God.'

 

She knew she should be experiencing pity and despair for her feline friend - and she was - but she had to acknowledge something else. As she stared at Voltaire's still and peaceful expression - that total absence of pain - there was an inescapable feeling brewing in the darkness.

 

Envy.

 

 

String Theory

 

Nine and a half hours before she decided to die, Nora arrived late for her afternoon shift at String Theory.

 

'I'm sorry,' she told Neil, in the scruffy little windowless box of an office. 'My cat died. Last night. And I had to bury him. Well, someone helped me bury him. But then I was left alone in my flat and I couldn't sleep and forgot to set the alarm and didn't wake up till midday and then had to rush.'

 

This was all true, and she imagined her appearance - including make-up-free face, loose makeshift ponytail and the same second-hand green corduroy pinafore dress she had worn to work all week, garnished with a general air of tired despair - would back her up.

 

Neil looked up from his computer and leaned back in his chair. He joined his hands together and made a steeple of his index fingers, which he placed under his chin, as if he was Confucius contemplating a deep philosophical truth about the universe rather than the boss of a musical equipment shop dealing with a late employee. There was a massive Fleetwood Mac poster on the wall behind him, the top right corner of which had come unstuck and flopped down like a puppy's ear.

 

'Listen, Nora, I like you.'

 

Neil was harmless. A fifty-something guitar aficionado who liked cracking bad jokes and playing passable old Dylan covers live in the store.

 

'And I know you've got mental-health stuff.'

 

'Everyone's got mental-health stuff.'

 

'You know what I mean.'

 

'I'm feeling much better, generally,' she lied. 'It's not clinical. The doctor says it's situational depression. It's just that I keep on having new . . . situations. But I haven't taken a day off sick for it all. Apart from when my mum . . . Yeah. Apart from that.'

 

Neil sighed. When he did so he made a whistling sound out of his nose. An ominous B flat. 'Nora, how long have you worked here?'

 

'Twelve years and . . .' - she knew this too well - '. . . eleven months and three days. On and off.'

 

'That's a long time. I feel like you are made for better things. You're in your late thirties.'

 

'I'm thirty-five.'

 

'You've got so much going for you. You teach people piano . . .'

 

'One person.'

 

He brushed a crumb off his sweater.

 

'Did you picture yourself stuck in your hometown working in a shop? You know, when you were fourteen? What did you picture yourself as?'

 

'At fourteen? A swimmer.' She'd been the fastest fourteen-year-old girl in the country at breaststroke and second-fastest at freestyle. She remembered standing on a podium at the National Swimming Championships.

 

'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.'

 

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.

 

She smoothed a stray strand of her coal-black hair up towards her ponytail.

 

'What are you saying, Neil?'

 

'It's never too late to pursue a dream.'

 

'Pretty sure it's too late to pursue that one.'

 

'You're a very well qualified person, Nora. Degree in Philosophy . . .'

 

Nora stared down at the small mole on her left hand. That mole had been through everything she'd been through. And it just stayed there, not caring. Just being a mole. 'Not a massive demand for philosophers in Bedford, if I'm honest, Neil.'

 

'You went to uni, had a year in London, then came back.'

 

'I didn't have much of a choice.'

 

Nora didn't want a conversation about her dead mum. Or even Dan. Because Neil had found Nora's backing out of a wedding with two days' notice the most fascinating love story since Kurt and Courtney.

 

'We all have choices, Nora. There's such a thing as free will.'

 

'Well, not if you subscribe to a deterministic view of the universe.'

 

'But why here?'

 

'It was either here or the Animal Rescue Centre. This paid better. Plus, you know, music.'

 

'You were in a band. With your brother.'

 

'I was. The Labyrinths. We weren't really going anywhere.'

 

'Your brother tells a different story.'

 

This took Nora by surprise. 'Joe? How do you-'

 

'He bought an amp. Marshall DSL40.'

 

'When?'

 

'Friday.'

 

'He was in Bedford?'

 

'Unless it was a hologram. Like Tupac.'

 

He was probably visiting Ravi, Nora thought. Ravi was her brother's best friend. While Joe had given up the guitar and moved to London, for a crap IT job he hated, Ravi had stuck to Bedford. He played in a covers band now, called Slaughterhouse Four, doing pub gigs around town.

 

'Right. That's interesting.'

 

Nora was pretty certain her brother knew Friday was her day off. The fact prodded her from inside.

 

'I'm happy here.'

 

'Except you aren't.'

 

He was right. A soul-sickness festered within her. Her mind was throwing itself up. She widened her smile.

 

'I mean, I am happy with the job. Happy as in, you know, satisfied. Neil, I need this job.'

 

'You are a good person. You worry about the world. The homeless, the environment.'

 

'I need a job.'

 

He was back in his Confucius pose. 'You need freedom.'

 

'I don't want freedom.'

 

'This isn't a non-profit organisation. Though I have to say it is rapidly becoming one.'

 

'Look, Neil, is this about what I said the other week? About you needing to modernise things? I've got some ideas of how to get younger peo-'

 

'No,' he said, defensively. 'This place used to just be guitars. String Theory, get it? I diversified. Made this work. It's just that when times are tough I can't pay you to put off customers with your face looking like a wet weekend.'

 

'What?'

 

'I'm afraid, Nora' - he paused for a moment, about the time it takes to lift an axe into the air - 'I'm going to have to let you go.'

 

 

To Live Is to Suffer

 

Nine hours before she decided to die, Nora wandered around Bedford aimlessly. The town was a conveyor belt of despair. The pebble-dashed sports centre where her dead dad once watched her swim lengths of the pool, the Mexican restaurant where she'd taken Dan for fajitas, the hospital where her mum had her treatment.

 

Dan had texted her yesterday.

 

Nora, I miss your voice. Can we talk? D x

 

She'd said she was stupidly hectic (big lol). Yet it was impossible to text anything else. Not because she didn't still feel for him, but because she did. And couldn't risk hurting him again. She'd ruined his life. My life is chaos, he'd told her, via drunk texts, shortly after the would-be wedding she'd pulled out of two days before.

 

The universe tended towards chaos and entropy. That was basic thermodynamics. Maybe it was basic existence too.

 

You lose your job, then more shit happens.

 

The wind whispered through the trees.

 

It began to rain.

 

She headed towards the shelter of a newsagent's, with the deep - and, as it happened, correct - sense that things were about to get worse.

Praise

An instant New York Times bestseller
Winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction

A GOOD MORNING AMERICA Book Club Pick!
One of the LibraryReads 2020 Voter Favorites
Independent (London) One of Ten Best Books of the Year

Included in best-of-year and year-end roundups by The Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, New York Public Library, Amazon, Boston Globe, PureWow, St. Louis Public Radio, She Reads, Lit Hub, The Mary Sue, and more


“Whimsical.” —Washington Post, named one of the 15 Feel-Good Books Guaranteed to Lift Your Spirits

"An absorbing but comfortable read...a vision of limitless possibility, of new roads taken, of new lives lived, of a whole different world available to us somehow, somewhere, might be exactly what’s wanted in these troubled and troubling times.” —The New York Times

“Charming...a celebration of the ordinary: ordinary revelations, ordinary people, and the infinity of worlds seeded in ordinary choices.” —The Guardian

“A brilliant premise and great fun.” —Daily Mail

"This book really makes you think all about our choices in life and that big question of “Where would I be if I had made a different choice?” It’s a book that definitely made me self-reflect." --
Millie Bobbie Brown actor and author of Nineteen Steps

"I can't describe how much his work means to me. So necessary...[Matt Haig is] the king of empathy." Jameela Jamil, actor and host of I Weigh with Jameela Jamil

“A beautiful fable, an It’s a Wonderful Life for the modern age – impossibly timely when we are all stuck in a world we wish could be different.” —Jodi Picoult, author of My Sister's Keeper

“This brainy, captivating pleasure read feels like what you might get if TV’s The Good Place collided with Where’d You Go, Bernadette.” —People

Thanks to the storytelling chops of writer Matt Haig, The Midnight Library is an engaging read, full of gentle insights and soothing wisdom… This is a book about shedding regret by gaining perspective. It’s full of quirky plot lines, with glimpses of opportunities and potential in unexpected places and people.” —Psychology Today

A charming book.” —Dolly Parton, award-winning singer-songwriter

“Although I don’t read fiction as much as I used to—because I’m always writing fiction—during these sad and difficult days in 2020 I broke that rule because I needed to ­escape into other people’s fictional worlds. One of my favorite books of the year was "The Midnight Library" by Matt Haig, a powerful and uplifting story about regrets and the choices we make.”—Alice Hoffman, author of Magic Lessons and Practical Magic

“Clever, emotional and thought-inspiring.” —Jenny Colgan, author of The Bookshop on the Corner

“Amazing and utterly beautiful, The Midnight Library is everything you'd expect from the genius storyteller who is Matt Haig.” —Joanna Cannon, author of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep

“Nora’s life is burdened by regrets. Then she stumbles on a library with books that enable her to test out the lives she could have led, including as a glaciologist, Olympic swimmer, rock star, and more. Her discoveries ultimately prove life-affirming in Matt Haig’s dazzling fantasy.” —Christian Science Monitor

“Would we really make better choices if we could step back in time? Matt Haig’s thought-provoking, uplifting new book, The Midnight Library discusses just that, exploring our relationship with regret and what really makes a perfect life.” —Harper's Bazaar (UK)

“British author Matt Haig is beloved in his home country, and he’s a champion of mental health, which makes him a great person to follow on Twitter. He’s best known for the novel How to Stop Time, but he has a new novel just out on September 29 called The Midnight Library, which sounds equally intriguing. In this library, Nora Seed finds endless books which contain different versions of the life she could have lived. This is a must-read for those of us given to endless what ifs.” —BookRiot

“Haig is one of the most inspirational popular writers on mental health of our age and, in his latest novel, he has taken a clever, engaging concept and created a heart-warming story that offers wisdom in the same deceptively simple way as Mitch Albom's best tales.” —Independent (UK)

"Just beautiful . . . Such a gorgeous, gorgeous book.” —Fearne Cotton, host of the BBC Radio 1 Chart Show  

"A highly original, thought-provoking novel..." -- Independent (London)

"[The Midnight Library] will follow in the bestselling footsteps of Haig’s earlier books . . . Part Sliding Doors, part-philosophical quest, this is a moving novel with a powerful mental health message at its heart.” —Alice O’Keeffe, The Bookseller

“Haig’s latest (after the nonfiction collection Notes on a Nervous Planet, 2019) is a stunning contemporary story that explores the choices that make up a life, and the regrets that can stifle it. A compelling novel that will resonate with readers.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Charming...[Matt Haig] will reward readers who take this book off the shelf.” —Publisher's Weekly

Author

© Kan Lailey
Matt Haig is the author of the internationally bestselling memoir Reasons to Stay Alive and Notes on a Nervous Planet, along with six novels, including How To Stop Time, and several award-winning children's books. His work has been translated into thirty languages. View titles by Matt Haig