2 Sentence Summary
“The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig tells the story of Nora, a middle-aged woman who is unhappy with her life and feels disconnected from the world. While feeling down, she discovers the Midnight Library, which is filled with books that transport her to alternate versions of her life.
Summary Read Time: Less than 5 minutes
Actual Book Length: 304
First Published in: 2020
Below is the detailed yet quick summary of the book:
“The Midnight Library” follows Nora Seed from her childhood, when she plays chess with the school librarian and discusses different moves, to her adulthood at age 35. After being fired from her job and losing a music student, Nora returns home to find that her cat has passed away. Reflecting on her loneliness and strained relationship with her brother, as well as a broken engagement, Nora feels disconnected from the world and decides to take her own life by overdosing on pills. She then loses consciousness.
When Nora awakens, she finds herself in a library run by Mrs. Elm, who looks the same as she did when Nora was in elementary school. Mrs. Elm explains that Nora is in the “Midnight Library,” a place where people can contemplate the paths not taken in their lives. Mrs. Elm gives Nora a book called the “Book of Regrets,” which is filled with all of the things she has ever regretted, ranging from small details to abstract concepts. Nora then begins to consider the alternative lives that she could have lived.
Nora’s first exploration of an alternate life brings her to a timeline in which she owns a pub with Dan, a former romantic partner. In this reality, Nora chose to marry Dan and support his dream of owning a bar. However, Nora quickly realizes that this life is not what she expected. Dan is rude and resentful towards her, and she discovers that he has cheated on her in this timeline. Disappointed, Nora returns to the library.
Nora enters another alternate reality in which she kept her cat indoors. However, she realizes that her cat actually had a health condition that shortened its lifespan, so it died earlier in this timeline. Nora complains to Mrs. Elm that she keeps leading her to unhappy lives. She then travels to a timeline in which she moved to Australia to be closer to her best friend Izzy, only to discover that Izzy has recently died in a car accident.
Nora continues to examine alternate lives, including one in which she didn’t quit swimming in high school and competed at the Olympic level. In this timeline, she has a strong relationship with her brother and gives motivational speeches. However, she also learns that her father is alive in this reality but her mother is not, as she turned to alcoholism after her husband left her.
During a speech, Nora discusses the idea that life is like a tree, with multiple branches representing different decisions. She also points out that the concept of a “successful” life is subjective, as every version of a person’s life includes its own challenges and frustrations.
Nora returns to the library and learns that there is a system error due to the possibility of her dying, which would cause the library to cease to exist. She travels to a timeline in which she becomes a glaciologist, narrowly avoiding an attack by a polar bear. She also meets Hugo Lefebvre, who is also exploring alternate lives, and they have a disappointing sexual encounter. In another life, Nora is a famous rockstar and dating a movie star, but her brother is no longer alive. She grows increasingly frustrated and despondent as she continues to search for a fulfilling life.
Nora experiences a variety of other alternate lives, including one in which she works at a dog shelter with a kind boyfriend. In another one, she has a troubled marriage and owns a vineyard. Eventually, she settles into a life that she finds meaningful and fulfilling, in which she is married to Ash, teaches philosophy, and has a daughter. She spends a long time in this life, but eventually comes across a former piano student who is being arrested. This realization leads her to understand the significance of their music lessons and the impact they had on his life. She then leaves that life and returns to the library.
As Nora decides to live, the library begins to fall apart. She escapes and returns to her original life, where she is able to find her neighbor before losing consciousness. When she wakes up in the hospital, Nora reconciles with her brother. She contacts the mother of the student she missed a lesson with, promising to be more reliable in the future. With a new appreciation for the various possibilities in her life, Nora feels happy again. She visits the real Mrs. Elm in a nursing home and they enjoy a game of chess together.