Matt Haig

I’ve been thinking for a while about doing a series of posts where in each, I pick an author I love and go through my collection of their books. Some authors I already have in mind are Jon Ronson, Nora Ephron, Talia Hibbert, David Sedaris and Jessie Burton, but today we’re starting with Matt Haig since his new novel The Midnight Library came out just a few weeks ago and I’ve finished it (and as to be expected, it was beautiful) so I’m in the mood to talk all things Matt Haig.

I’ll start with how I came to Haig’s work in the first place, through his non-fiction, I don’t think I knew much about his book Notes on a Nervous Planet when I first picked it up and it’s likely I was drawn to it simply because of the truly wonderful rainbow hardback hidden beneath the sleeve. But I soon realised just how much the book had to offer, I read the book at a strange time when I was in the middle of dropping out of my old course at uni and spending a lot of my time hanging around campus and the city of Edinburgh reading. Always having a book on the go was a love I had abandoned for a time, but felt a deep need for again. Haig touched upon so many of my thoughts and the inner dread and panic that had started sprouting up before I had the chance to realise what was happening or stop it. And in that way brought some comfort while I worked my way through this realisation (even more so when I went to see his live show a few months later). I’m not sure Haig’s writing can be summed up in any meaningful way or understood without simply reading it, but in short the book looks at how the world, and in particular technology, is evolving far too fast for our brains that haven’t changed since we were cave dwellers possibly committing mass genocide on every other human species (honestly, what are we like). This fast paced world where we are expected to be constantly aware of everything going on around the world while also analysing and bettering every part of ourselves has led to a crisis in loneliness, stress and anxiety. Haig takes a personal look through his own struggles and their connection to the world at large, then applies this to how we stay sane and find our humanity in the contemporary world. I later picked up Haig’s memoir, Reasons to Stay Alive, which goes through his struggle with depression, both how he learned to live with it and overcome the worst and darkest parts of it. The book takes a look at mental health not from the perspective of a psychologist or a doctor, but from someone who’s been through it and continues to live with it which allows for so much more depth and understanding, particularly in living with it day to day. So many people adore this book, whether it’s for the hope and light it can bring or for the learning for those who want to understand. As he says in Reasons to Stay Alive,

“The world is increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? How do you sell an anti-ageing moisturiser? You make someone worry about ageing. How do you get people to vote for a political party? You make them worry about immigration. How do you get them to buy insurance? By making them worry about everything. How do you get them to have plastic surgery? By highlighting their physical flaws. How do you get them to watch a TV show? By making them worry about missing out. How do you get them to buy a new smartphone? By making them feel like they are being left behind. To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with your own non-upgraded existence. To be comfortable with our messy, human selves, would not be good for business.”

Nowhere however does Haig’s ability to find the best in humanity and what it means to be human shine through more than in his fiction work. He has to my knowledge 7 adult novels and 10 children’s books, and as you can see from my book pile, I only have 4 of his novels so I still have some back catalogue to look forward to. Through all of Haig’s easily readable fiction he manages to take a look at the human experience through an outside perspective which provides a unique lens for looking at the human condition. With a great deal of care he allows for fresh ideas, hope and a rewiring of how we look at the world which feels needed every once in a while to remind us of the beauty of the planet and our fragility within it that can add more meaning to our existence rather than fear. Whether through an alien taking over the body of a man in order to complete his mission in The Humans, or a hundred year old man who looks to be in his 40s struggling to find meaning in How to Stop Time or even through a family of vampires trying to explain their bloodthirst to their teenage children in The Radleys, Matt Haig always manages to bring the readers focus back to what really matters in life through vulnerability and connection.

And lastly, his new novel The Midnight Library, which I read in one day and was so engrossed by that while sitting outside till I finished it, I hadn’t noticed how bloody cold it had gotten and in turn how purple my fingers were. The Midnight Library is a library between life and death where the protagonist Nora Seed ends up after trying to take her own life. While there Nora gets to go through all her regrets and through each book, gets a chance to live all the lives she could’ve lived if she’d made different decisions along the way. Nora is completely consumed and weighed down by all her regrets, but through each book she realises the lives she had imagined she’d missed out on weren’t everything she hoped they’d be. Just as she’s beginning to make some progress through her regrets however, she begins to lose her way finding herself jumping from one life to the next with no idea what she’s looking for and what makes a life worth staying in. With the help of the all knowing librarian she soon realises that each decision she makes has completely unknown consequences, some bad, some good but mainly a mix of both, as most lives are, and after one encounter with a polar bear (usual), well suddenly things start to fall into place. I thought the book was utterly perfect and as usual Matt Haig managed to take a rather odd concept and make it into something lovely and moving, it felt so very thoughtful and absolutely necessary, especially as it is impossible to read without ending up reflecting on your own life and the decisions you’ve made along the way. It was also rather damn motivating.

So yeah, I quite like Matt Haig’s books. With their accessible and thought provoking subjects, hopeful and inspiring outlooks and many surprising laughs, what’s more to love.

—T

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