The Midnight Library by Matt Haig-Book

From a Google Image Search – BiblioCoach

Nora Seed is depressed. She has lost so many things recently. When a man she is attracted to knocks on her door in the midst of her despair, she thinks things might be looking up, but he is just there to tell her that he thinks her cat, a ginger tabby named Voltaire, is dead at the side of the road. He stays to help her bury the cat, but then she is late for her job at String Theory, a shop that sells albums and musical instruments, so she gets fired. Her only piano student’s mom tells her that Leo will no longer be taking lessons. She looks back over her life and sees that she has been unable to commit to anything and that this has caused pain to her brother Joe and to others in her life. She tips over the scary edge and swallows enough pills to end her miserable life, but she ends up in a limbo between life and death (with lots of talk about Schrodinger’s cat) in The Midnight Library with Mrs. Elm, the school librarian who helped her when she was younger.

The Midnight Library is a place we might all want to visit. Nora is faced with a big book of her regrets, which become far less of a weight once she has made it through the book. The shelves are infinite and all the books are green. Nora is able to go back to each moment in her life when she chose a path and see what would have happened if she stayed on that path. The Midnight Library is not endlessly patient. There are rules that can be broken with existential results. Nora has a degree in philosophy and knows all about existential results. But she longs for an authentic life such as that of Henry David Thoreau. 

Matt Haig is the author of this book and we readers always get a little nervous when a male author chooses to feature a female character. Did Nora Seed have to be female? Perhaps in this tale the gender of the main character doesn’t matter as much because, although this is an interesting concept and a good story, it doesn’t have the literary heft or the philosophical depth that it could have had. There is a certain Faustian quality to Nora’s library research. She doesn’t have to sell her soul, but she has to remember that her corporeal body is alone in her apartment flickering between life and death. The concept of The Midnight Library is interesting and the plot resembles time travel, but the overall effect is quite quotidian and therefore a bit disappointing. Enjoyable, just not profound.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab-Book

From a Google Image Search – Book Club Chat

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab warns us to follow her neighbor Estelle’s advice and never make a deal with gods who answer after dark. The tale of Adeline LaRue shows what can happen if you make such a deal, even by accident, or because you are desperate. Adeline ends up making a very bad deal with a tricky god who takes on the appearance of Adeline’s perfect partner, a made up figure she has been drawing for many years. 

Adeline grows up in the 18th century in a small village called Villon in France. It is practically impossible for a daughter to avoid a local marriage and the life of a wife and mother, hard and full of toil if you are not from a wealthy family. Adeline doesn’t want this life. She wants to be free, in a time when freedom for women was also something that might be marginally possible only if you were rich. Adeline’s family is not rich. Her father carves small, and quite desirable figures from wood and sells them at local markets.

Be careful what you ask for. 

I almost put this book aside because I don’t usually read fiction about the occult or magic but I was ready for light entertainment and so I kept reading. Adeline’s deal means that she gets to live a long life as a ‘free’ woman, but no one remembers her. She can’t rent a hotel room or own any thing or have a normal relationship because she is always unknown. Everything is temporary. She can’t even say her own name. She is not really free at all because she sold her soul to ‘Luc’ for a freedom that is worthless. Luc visits Addie frequently to see if she is ready to give up her soul yet, but she is a stubborn girl. The more he tries to get her to give up, the more determined she becomes to go on. Three hundred years later, looking back, she acknowledges the things she has gained from her long life. Certain pieces of art work seem to give credence to Addie’s story. But she is tired.

In 2014 she finds a way to change the deal – at least temporarily. How does that happen? Read and find out. This was an inventive and entertaining piece of fiction, although the word ‘palimpsest’ cropped up a bit too often perhaps. Good job, V. E. Schwab.