Top positive review
5.0 out of 5 starsFull of philosophical aphorisms & lots of Easter eggs & ideas about happiness and choices and life
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on February 19, 2021
So many options can be pursued when evaluating a book. Did the author create believable and consistent characters? Did the author manufacture vivid scenes and detailed locations? Did the author include Easter eggs for the reader to find, anagrams of names (like in the Series of Unfortunate Events) or a play on words or an alliteration or metaphors or similes or puns? Did the author include references to real world events or people or places that the reader can connect to? Did the author explore a familiar concept in a new way? Did the author give the characters words to say that connect with the reader and their view of life? Did the author overuse actual dialogue or internal monologue to explain the story instead of relying upon actual action.
There are so many options for the reviewer, just as there are so many options for the main character in this book. Nora Seed finds herself in a library at the stroke of midnight, with lots of books around her and a librarian from her childhood, Mrs. Elm. Each book represents a different version of Nora’s life, a life of joys and sorrows, people and places, events and tragedies that spawned from a single choice, a decision, or in the case of this girl so full of regrets, something that didn’t happen because she didn’t make that choice.
Of course, there is the root life, the life that Nora remembers living, a life full of disappointments and settling, that led to her attempted suicide and her visits to the Midnight Library. A moment in between, where she isn’t alive and in her body yet she isn’t dead (with the finality that means for self and others). And there are all of those other lives that she now gets to explore, lives where she doesn’t remember any of that Nora’s life, but finds herself plopped there with a kid yet no memory of this child, or as a wife with no memory of sleeping with her husband, or as a glaciologist with no memory of what such a scientist knows, or as a pop star with no memory of the words to popular songs, or as a pub owner with no memory of what to do when closing. Lives, but without the memories that led her there.
An interesting thread running throughout the book is that of Hugo, another slider who explores his own lives. Hugo and Nora meet up several times, though find that the other isn’t what they want and each chooses to go back to their own terminal, hers a library and his a video store. I expected them to meet up at the end, as they had such a powerful connection through their sliding, both aware of themselves and of others, but no. it wasn’t to be. I’m not disappointed, just wondering if such a possibility exists, and if I will get this chance one day. And I wonder how Hugo arrived at this point, if his was also a suicide, and if it only happened to suicides or lives so filled with regrets.
A question I still have is about the character of Mrs. Elm (for Nora) or the uncle (for Hugo) and the place where these shamans or guides or facilitators resided. Both sliders found themselves in an in-between place with a familiar character as the trusted one, not someone who used them but someone who in real life helped them find their own way. A good person. An older person who helped at a pivotal time in their life. I find it cool that the author (Matt Haig) crafted a god-like character, not one who superimposes her/his will on you but one who is limited in what they can do by the physics of the world (a library or a video store) they are trapped in. Not all-powerful. Not desiring worship. Not governed by human impulses (power and sex). But a personal god whose sole interest was in the needs and wants of a single person, a much better concept (to me) than the invented gods of the modern world that seem interested in humanity as a whole (and worship and knee-bending and blind obedience and all of that stupidity). If we could wipe away all of the old gods and create a new god for each person today, this would be the kind of god I would like to think about. Though there is that question about universality, and whether everything we think and feel isn’t just arising from our own experiences, including all of this god-talk.
I enjoyed finding things in this book. Like the title, on page 31. And the name of the band, a variation of the Kurt Vonnegut classic, Slaughterhouse Five. And the name of the music shop that sounds like the idea behind all of the lived lives in this book, String Theory. And the references to Bedford and Pottersville, connecting readers to the classic movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”. And life-fright being similar to stage-fright. And the role of chess in the book, from its beginning to its end, something that used to be a major part of my own life as an educator. And glitches in the library that stemmed from Nora thinking differently about death than she did in her root life. And I had to look up “grasshopper suicide”, because the character told me to, and how many forms of life there are (almost nine million), and Frank Ocean (“Moon River” was awesome).
Another interesting concept is that of time. Time doesn’t pass for Nora in the real world as she pulls out numerous books from the library shelves, some exploring for a few minutes, others for hours or days or months. Yet the clock never moves past 12:00 in slide after slide, life after life, universe after universe, until her thinking changes in such a way that she no longer regrets the choices she made in her root life. And then the clock starts ticking and Mrs. Elm warns her that she must do just one thing in order to survive, pick that one book, and, wait, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it gets to 00:03:48.
If you want to know what happens to Nora, then read this book. It is really good and worth your time. And if you are the philosophical type (as I am), then keep a notepad and pen nearby so that you can write down the interesting thoughts and ideas that flow from the mind of Nora Seed, the questions she ponders, the truths she shares with the world. And I will end on a final thought, one found on page 137, about life and what it is: “…acres of disappointment and monotony and hurts and rivalries but with flashes of wonder and beauty.” Something to think about.