• Bestselling author Matt Haig's new book The Midnight Library explores themes of sadness and regret

  • Therapist Catherine Sweeney reviews

Perhaps it takes a clever author with their own mental health issues to write such a heartfelt yet entertaining novel about depression. In Matt Haig's wonderful new book The Midnight Library we follow the predicament of Nora Seed who, coming to the end of her rope, feels the only way forward is to attempt to end her life, but finds herself in the library of the title, a place between life and death. Here, the books are all potential un-lived lives as well her own Book of Regrets. She gets the chance to try any or all of these lives on. What would have happened if she stayed with her ex? If she’d followed a different career as a climate change expert? Or an Olympic swimmer? A member of a famous band? She even tries a few lives on she’s never even considered. In doing so, can she discover a life more fulfilling than the one she wants to leave?

It’s the sort of book that makes us ponder our own life and regrets. As Nora says: “It is not the lives we regret not living that are the real problem. It is the regret itself.” The novel helps us make sense of our own paths not taken and dreams unrealised, posing the idea that perhaps in letting go of the regrets, the life we are living now can become the one we want it to be. If ever we needed a metaphor for the idea that books can change lives, perhaps this book about a virtual library is it.

I also loved the nod to two great Christmas stories namely the film, It’s a Wonderful Life and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Both old favourites of mine and if you too like those, you’ll love this. All three fables have central characters who have given up on life, yet given a chance to see their life in a new way through metaphysical means. Even though Christmas is never even mentioned in The Midnight Library, I think it is a great book to read this season as it has such a feeling of redemption, hope and the chance to start over. Something we could all do with after the year we’ve all had and the struggle I see many clients are dealing with.

As Nora says: ‘So let’s be kind to the people in our own existence. Let’s occasionally look up from the spot in which we are, because wherever we happen to be standing the sky above goes on forever.’

Here's some more mood boosting books from Reading Well. 

Buy Matt Haig's The Midnight Library here

Catherine Sweeney is a verified welldoing.org therapist in Cardiff and online

Further reading

Matt Haig on his first signs of depression

Books to beat the winter blues

Our Wise Words series of recommended books