By Matt Haig
SPOILER ALERT: Most of my reviews discuss the ending of a book so if you don’t want to know the result look away now 😉
This was so compelling and readable, I devoured it in only two sittings, which happens when I get stuck into something. My sleep suffers but my dopamine benefits.
I really liked Nora and Mrs Elm and I loved the idea of it. I definitely need to check out Henry David Thoreau. References to him always seem to turn up in things I like!
It was a nicely observed account of a woman lingering between life and death and exploring the different paths she could have taken, and unravelling her regrets to learn that every possible life has its ups and downs and that her choices have different outcomes for different people in her life as well as for herself.
Possibly the only bum note for me was this: Is it supposed to all be in her imagination, in which case I can see that she could be an Olympic swimmer, a Cambridge lecturer, a rock star etc. However, if, as it hinted, these are actual parallel lives, then I don’t buy it. She couldn’t be all of those things just on the basis of her making different choices.
Seriously, I played tennis through most of my childhood but I quit in my teens. If I went back and undid that decision would I go on to become a professional tennis player and play at Wimbledon? No, I wouldn’t. Because choices are not the only factor, it’s also about talent. The book seemed to be saying we can be whatever we want, it’s just a matter of different choices, and I don’t agree with that. The other messages, however, were all spot on.
The concept resonated with me because I am usually living a parallel life too. I don’t know whether it’s an ADHD thing, I suspect it probably is, but I am always imagining a parallel life that I’m in, and it’s with me alongside my current one. I have a vivid imagination so I can imagine it in detail, and whilst it is most definitely not real it is like a film playing in my mind. So I could identify with Nora’s library, though mine isn’t so much about regrets or not wanting my current life, mine is about my mind having its little adventures to keep itself entertained.
I enjoyed the ending very much, and I loved that it was not clear what path she was going to take, but she had more self knowledge with which to navigate it.