- The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig. Canongate. $29.99.
On publication in Britain, Matt Haig's The Midnight Library went straight to number one on the Sunday Times hardback bestseller lists,
This is perhaps reflecting that a well written, feel-good novel resonates strongly in a COVID-19 world.
The book, however, doesn't start out on that note, as single, 35-year-old, Nora Seed, estranged from family and friends, loses her job and decides, after her cat dies, to take a fatal overdose.
Nora believes that her "every move had been a mistake, every decision a disaster, every day a retreat from who she'd imagine she'd be".
Haig here draws on his own bestselling memoir about his early suicidal depression, Reasons to Stay Alive (2015).
Nora finds herself in a limbo between life and death in the "Midnight Library", run by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, where "every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived.
To see how things would be if you had made other choices ... Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?'
So, in various multiverses, Nora marries the man she walked out on just before her wedding and runs a country pub with him; follows her dream to become an Arctic researcher at Svalbard; and continues her teenage swimming success to win gold at the Olympics.
She also gets back with her estranged brother to ensure the success of their rock band; travels to Bondi to resume a vital female friendship; and becomes a mother.
Before library time runs out, however, she must resolve the ultimate question, what is the best way to live?
Haig says, "it is not the lives we regret not living that are the real problem. It is regret itself".
The author reflects, through Nora's experience that, we should stop "punishing ourselves for not having a certain life or body or perfect relationship.
"We are almost encouraged to feel bad about ourselves through social media postings.
"We're in danger of falling through that gap between who we are and how we present ourselves to be."
Haig has acknowledged the inspiration of Frank Capra's classic 1946 film, It's a Wonderful Life, starring James Stewart, with its message that second chances come through an appreciation of the ordinary things of life, and the realisation that "often you have a lot more than you think".
The Midnight Library is a heart-warming and uplifting book, as Nora comes to realise that there is more to live for than she ever realised.