Tag Archives: quantum mechanics

The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig

Nora Seed can’t take it anymore. Her parents are dead, her brother doesn’t talk to her, and she’s just lost her job. When a rejected suitor knocks on her door to tell her that her beloved cat is dead in the street, she decides that she is beyond depressed, and so she takes all of her anti-depressants at once.

The afterlife is not what she had anticipated. It’s a library, and her former school librarian is there to help her find just the right book among the infinite number of books of alternate lives. First, she has to read The Book of Regrets, which gets heavier and heavier as she reads, and then she can choose which regret she would like to reverse in order to live a better life. There are infinite choices, but if she gives up altogether, the library will be destroyed, and she will be truly dead.

Combining wishful thinking with quantum mechanics, Haig whips Nora and the reader along a painful path to wisdom. Nora’s changes do not just affect her own life, but also the people who are part of her existence, whether she knows them intimately or they are mere acquaintances. Haig explores the interconnectedness of communities and families and questions the limits of individuals’ responsibility for those around them. As Nora tries on different lives, the same character who was charming in one iteration may be loathsome in another, raising the nature/nurture debate about how much we are victims of our circumstances. Will Nora ever be happy?

I listened to this book on audio, read by Carey Mulligan, and found it to be delightful. Some reviewers complained that it was predictable, and to an extent, that is true. The theory of quantum physics has spawned a thousand works of fiction exploring alternate lives, but Nora is a believable, very ordinary character, and the reader will find herself cheering for some of her choices and backpedaling from others. Truthfully, I did not predict the ending, and I was really hoping for another. However, Haig’s conclusion was much more satisfying than mine would have been.

Fun stories with a side of thoughtfulness. Recommended.

Disclaimer: I listened to a library audiobook of this title. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

ImageThere are probably very few of us who have never thought, “If only I could go back and change that one decision I made, my life would be so much better.” Perhaps it was something that happened to you or to someone you love, or maybe one choice that you would make differently now, if you only had the chance. But what if that one change in your life would cause you to miss out on many good things that happened later? Or what if the other choice led to tragedy instead?

It is not a spoiler for me to tell you that on the second page of Life After Life, Ursula walks into a café and shoots der Führer, for which she is immediately killed by his guards. A couple of pages later, Ursula is born on February 11, 1910, but the umbilical cord is wrapped around her neck, and she dies. A few pages later, Ursula is born on February 11, 1910, and is sleeping peacefully in her cradle while her mother munches on toast and sips tea. Confused yet?

It may be an oversimplification to call this “quantum physics meets historical fiction,” but that is probably the best way to describe this amazing new book by Kate Atkinson. Ursula lives through the first and second world wars, at least in some of her lives. She is always born into the same family on the same day, but a few key events may or may not take place each time, and each change brings a different outcome. Interestingly, all of the characters have the same basic personality and nature, even though their lives are transformed in many details. Ursula receives support from her wonderfully crazy Aunt Izzie, the black sheep of the family, and a very quirky psychiatrist who helps her to deal with the déjà vu and terrible premonitions that she begins to experience. Although reincarnation and Buddhism are mentioned here and there, I am not aware of any Buddhist teaching that allows people to relive the same life over and over in order to correct their mistakes.

Please don’t think that this novel, at 527 pages, would get monotonous. Quite the contrary! Atkinson does not bring us all the way back to Ursula’s birth every single time. Sometimes, she just replays certain key portions of her life, and sometimes she skips backward and forward in time. The reader is eager to put the pieces of the puzzle together to see where the changes were made and to find out what will happen to our beloved heroine this time. Ursula doesn’t meander through time forever, either. The ending is very purposeful and satisfying.

If you’re looking for something entirely new that feels warm and familiar, you will love this intimate exploration of one ordinary woman’s life in extraordinary times.

Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader’s copy of this book, lent to me by a librarian friend. My opinions are entirely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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