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Review: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig and 20 beautiful quotes from the book

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig is a thought-provoking novel that explores the power of choices and the importance of living a fulfilling life. 

The story follows the journey of the protagonist named Nora, a young woman struggling to find her place in the world and grappling with regrets about the choices she has made. 

After a suicide attempt, she finds herself in a library between life and death, a magical place where she gets to revisit different moments of her life and see how her choices have shaped her into who she is, and where she can explore alternate versions of her life based on different choices she could have made. 

As she travels through these different worlds, Nora learns valuable lessons about the consequences of her actions and the importance of embracing the present moment.

The concept of the Midnight Library is a unique and captivating one, and the novel is filled with poignant insights into the human experience. The characters are well-developed and relatable, and the themes of love, loss, and redemption are explored with depth and sensitivity.

01.  “Every life contains many millions of decisions. Some big, some small. But every time one decision is taken over another, outcomes differ. An irreversible variation occurs, which in turn leads to further variations.”

The concept of the library and the idea of "what if" is intriguing and makes the reader question their own life decisions. 

02. “Pressure makes us, though. You start off as coal and the pressure makes you a diamond”. 

03. “Everyone’s lives could have ended in an infinite number of ways. It’s never too late to pursue a dream.” 

04. “Sometimes regrets aren’t based on fact at all. Sometimes regrets are just a load of bullshit. Regrets don’t leave. They weren’t mosquito bites. They itch forever.” 

05. “You can choose choices but not outcomes. So, the only way to learn is to live.”

06. “Never underestimate the big importance of small things.”

07. “ If you aim to be something you are not, you will always fail. Aim to be you. Aim to look and act and think like you. Aim to be the truest version of yourself. Embrace that you are- ness. Endorse it. Love it. Work hard at it. And don’t give it a second thought when people mock or ridicule it. Most gossip is envy in disguise. Keep your head down. Keep your stamina. Keep swimming..” 

08. “Life is strange. How we live it all at once. In a straight line. But really that’s not the whole picture. Because life isn’t simply made of the things we do, but the things we don’t do too. And every moment of our life is a kind of turning. Think about it. Think about how we start off, as this set thing. Like the seed of a tree planted in the ground. And then we grow, and at first, we are a trunk.”

“But then the tree that is our life develops branches. And think of all those branches, departing from the trunk at different heights. And think of all those branches, branching off again, heading in often opposing directions. Think of those branches becoming other branches and those becoming twigs. And think of the end of each of those twigs, all in different places, having started from the same one. Life is like that but on a bigger scale. New branches are formed every second of every day. And from our perspective- from everyone’s perspective- it feels like a continuum. Each twig has traveled only one journey. But there are still other twigs. And there are also other days. Other lives that would have been different if you’d taken different directions earlier in your life. This is a tree of life.” 

09. “Life is frightening, and it is frightening for a reason, and the reason is that it doesn’t matter which branch of a life we get to live, we are always the same rotten tree. Everyone wanted to be many things in their life. All kinds of things. But if your life is rotten, it’ll be rotten no matter what you do. The damp rot the whole useless thing.” 

Nora had always had a problem accepting herself. From as far back as she could remember, she’d had the sense that she wasn’t enough. Her parents, who both had their own insecurities, had encouraged the idea. She imagined now, what it would be like to accept herself completely. Every mistake she had ever made. Every mark on her body. Every dream she hadn’t reached or pain she had felt. Every longing she had suppressed. She imagined accepting it all. The way she accepted nature. The way she accepted a glacier or a puffin or the breach of a whale. She imagined seeing herself as just another brilliant freak of nature. Just another sentient animal, trying its best. And in doing so, she imagined what it was like to be free. 

10. “ The thing you have to remember is that this is an opportunity and it is rare and we can undo any mistake we made, and live any life we want. Any life. Dream big. You can be anything you want to be. Because in one life, you are.” 

11. “ There are patterns to life….Rhythms. It is so easy, while trapped in just one life, to imagine that times of sadness or tragedy or failure, or fear are a result of that particular existence. That it is a by-product of living a certain way, rather than simply living. I mean, it would have made things a lot easier if we understood there was no way of living that can immunize you against sadness. And that sadness is intrinsically part of the fabric of happiness. You can’t have one without the other. Of course, they come in different degrees and quantities. But there is no life where you can be in a state of sheer happiness forever. And imagining there is just breeds more unhappiness in the life you are in.”

12. “You know what the matter is. This whole place exists because of you. You are the power source. When there is a severe disruption in that power source the library is in jeopardy. It’s you. You are giving up at the worst possible moment. You can’t give up. You have more to offer, More opportunities to have. There are so many versions of you out there. Remember how you felt after the polar bear. Remember how much you wanted life.”

13. “ You need to realize something if you are ever to succeed at chess. The thing you need to realize is this- the game is never over until it is over. It isn’t over if there is a single pawn still on the board. If one side is down to a pawn and a king, and the other side has every player, there is still a game. And even if you were a pawn - maybe we are all then you should remember that a pawn is the most magical piece of all. It might look small and ordinary but it isn’t. Because a pawn is never just a pawn. A pawn is a queen-in-waiting. All you need to do is find a way to keep moving forward. One square after another. And you can get to the other side and unlock all kinds of power.” 

It means the thing that looks the most ordinary might end up being the thing that leads you to victory. You have to keep going. 

14. “ Excellence was never an accident. That excellent outcomes were the result of the wise choice of many alternatives.” 

15. “ At the beginning of a game, there are no variations. There is only one way to set up a board. There are nine million variations after the first six moves. And after eight moves there are two hundred and eighty-eight billion different positions. And those possibilities keep growing. There are more possible ways to play a game of chess than the number of atoms in the observable universe. So it gets very messy. And there is no right way to play, there are many ways. In chess, as in life, possibility is the basis of everything. Every hope, every dream, every regret, every moment of living.” 

16. “You didn’t have to enjoy every aspect of each life to keep having the option of experiencing them. You just had to never give up on the idea that there would be a life somewhere that could be enjoyed. Equally, enjoying a life didn’t mean you stayed in that life. You only stayed in life forever if you couldn’t imagine a better one, and yet, paradoxically, the more lives you tried the easier it become to think of something better, as the imagination broadened a bit more with every new life as sampled in the midnight library.“ 

17. “ You don’t have to understand life. You just have to live it.”

18. “We only know what we perceive. Everything we experience is ultimately just our perception of it. It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” 

19. “ Life sometimes simply gave you a whole new perspective by waiting around long enough for you to see it.” 

20. “ It’s never too late to pursue a dream.” 

The book is a perfect blend of philosophical musings and emotional depth, and the themes of regret, second chances, and finding meaning in life are woven seamlessly into the story. Overall, The Midnight Library is a must-read for anyone who loves introspective and reflective books that make you question the purpose of life and the impact of our choices.

Ayrin Saleha Ria works at Future Startup as a full-time Research Associate. She has a background in Applied Sociology. Before joining the FS team, she worked and volunteered with a number of social organizations. As someone who comes from a social science background, she takes a deep interest in research around important social-economic challenges in our society. A voracious reader, Ayrin is passionate about working for the betterment of society, takes a deep interest in human society and behavioral science, and loves books.

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