Book Review And Thank You Letter: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

A library shelf with various books, and in the middle displayed the front page of "The Midnight Library" by Matt Haig

By: Giselle General

My workplace organizes an opt-in Secret Santa every year, and I participate every year. This time, I received a book as a gift, which is perfect for the holiday break that we get from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day, usually with an extra day or two. This is a Thank You Letter and a book review to my office Secret Santa, whose identity I still don’t know!


December 29, 2021

Dear work Secret Santa,

I don’t have investigative skills at all, so I will likely never know who you are. Also, over the past seven years at our workplace, I’ve only know for sure who my Secret Santa is just one time. The other time, I had a hunch but was never confirmed. All I know, given your handwritten  note on the card, is that you are either part of the office’s Book Club, or know someone who is.

I finished reading The Midnight Library by Matt Haig during the holiday break, over the course of a few days between Christmas Eve (our first day off from work) and Boxing Day.

Also, bonus points for wrapping the book using a Christmas themed fabric drawstring bag! I love it and I promise it will be re-used for many further occasions.

Anyways, back to the book. This is the first time I’ve read a book by this author, so I was going in blind. Aside from the short summary on the cover, I tried hard to not give myself spoilers from reading reviews online. The plot is really interesting, and very relevant to what I imagine is what a lot of people are feeling these days. The exhaustion and discouragement from feeling that one’s life have been full of regret or decisions will less-than-ideal outcomes. The resentment that might come up from one’s current circumstances, made worse by feeling trapped and unable to do enough to change things. Nora, the main character, decides to kill herself shortly after a neighbour tells her that her cat had died, after an already rough day from getting fired from her job and running into her old bandmate who tells Nora that her brother is unwell. Thinking and truly believing that “it is a good day to die” emphasizes disillusionment from feeling worthless and wanting the pain to end.

I am personally fond of libraries; they were literally a lifesaver for me growing up. So, the young Nora having fond memories of her school library was lovely, as well as her relationship with the librarian, Ms. Elm. Our own mind and memories work in interesting ways, so when the adult Nora overdoses on her medication and was taken to a mystical place where she can live different versions of her lives, it made sense to me that it looked like a library and that her “spiritual guide” was in the form of a familiar, kind person in her life, Ms. Elm.

The library has a “Book of Regrets” and countless books of different versions of lives to live. If Nora felt that she wanted to live that life permanently, she will be able to do so. But many times, feelings of discomfort, regret and discontent arises which would then take her back to the Midnight Library. As Nora went through various versions of what her life might have been, she slowly shakes off the feeling of needing to live the way that fulfills other people’s expectations. She also learned a harsh and true lesson, you can make choices, but you cannot predict outcomes.  This was a difficult one for Nora, because in some of the alternate lives she had chosen, either her friend, brother or someone else gets harmed and dies. In one of our alternate lives, she met a fellow “wanderer” who helped her understand the concept of what they are going through from a metaphysical standpoint.

Nora finally decides to return to her “root life”, the current life she was living in (and at the moment, her body is dying from the medical overdose), with a newfound sense of purpose, contentment, and determination to make some decision actions to make her present life better. I am particularly thrilled to learn that the actual Mrs. Elm was alive, and that the book ends with Nora and Mrs. Elm playing chess in the retirement home.

I know I took a break from the office book club, but if I re-join in the new year, maybe I’ll suggest this book. At least I already have a copy that I can lend to our co-workers!

Thank you again for the gift and for believing that this is a good choice for me. I do recommend others to read it also!  

Love Language Reflections: My Grandma

By: Giselle General

The first time I read articles about the concept of love language, it was framed in terms of romantic relationships. Giving gifts, quality time, loving words, helping gestures, and affection, are definitely key activities that help and sustain a relationship between lovers. That definitely made sense to me. And the fact that people have different preferences also made sense.

Recently, I have seen some articles that talk about differences in communication, affection and discipline when parenting children. The idea that “people function and react in a variety of ways” is something that I have been hearing about more and more. Perhaps then, for other types of relationships, there may be a variability in love language as well.

Unless someone makes a real effort to, one cannot give what they never received. One cannot give what they didn’t know they can have.

The recent trip to the Philippines to visit family made me think about these a little bit more, specifically my maternal grandma, who predominantly took care of my day-to-day needs after my brother and I lost our parents and sister.

I don’t dispute, nor do I undervalue, the gestures and sacrifices that she and all my relatives have done. Having to take care of two orphaned grandchildren while grieving for the death of your own child, son-in-law, and grandchild takes a lot of work, planning, troubleshooting and sacrifice.

She seemed to think that I didn’t appreciate what she had done, what she has given. Conversations during every visit has a similar pattern. After berating me with these accusations of ungratefulness, she will switch topics and talk about the land we inherited from her, such as how the taxes, land titles, and selling them. My stunted communications skills around her, because of the lack of warmth and trust between the two of us, make it hard for me to persuade her otherwise because I just shut down. As a frustrated teenager, there was a time when I did flip out my elders, calling them out for not being warm, affectionate, cuddly and motivating. I mean, young children do need those in order to grow healthy, strong and secure.

Given Grandma’s poverty-stricken background, survival and stability is most likely a key motivator all throughout her life. This I learned from the stories she would tell me as a kid, a personal and history-based version of bedtime stories that parents read to their kids. I know that as she became older and started her family and her businesses, she gifted all of her eight kids including my mother as well as her siblings, with land, and that is kind of a big deal. My mother and her siblings also received one business such as a store, and had their post-secondary education paid for. I imagine that it took a lot of hard work to earn the funds for and I appreciate that.

Her diatribes include snide remarks about how “hugs and kisses” are not essential, and would proudly claim that she never spanked us for discipline or abuse. From a history-based, trauma-informed approach that I have started to embrace, I realized that her love language is providing tangible items that provide both short-term and long-term benefit. Since her own father passed away when she and her siblings were young, and suffered hardship from bullying and poverty, her standard of treating family members is simply the opposite of what she has experienced and that’s it. Unless someone makes a real effort to, one cannot give what they never received. One cannot give what they didn’t know they can have.

With all of these in mind, I have made peace with the lack of affection that I received, and I feel empowered to seek that out for myself through other means. Perhaps in time, maybe I will learn how to display even some level of affection towards her, if only for a brief moment of time, before she changes the conversation into more business-like topics, like land and legal paperwork. These tangible items, which do cost a fair bit of money, are her love language, and will likely dictate the nature of our relationship for the rest of our lives.