Author: Matt Haig
Nora is depressed.
We know that from the outset because the first line of the book is: “Nineteen years before she decided to die…”
She feels she has let her father down by not becoming an Olympic swimmer.
She feels she has let Dan down by ditching him at the altar.
She feels she has let her best friend down by not going to Australia.
She feels she has let her brother down by not staying in the band.
Her cat has died, she has just gotten fired, her neighbour doesn’t need her to bring his medication anymore and she forgot she had a piano lesson to teach.
“It was, she decided, a very good time to die.”
The clock strikes midnight and Nora sees, through the mist, a structure.
It turns out to be a library and manning the library is her grade school librarian, Mrs Elm.
As Mrs. Elm explains that “Between life and death there is a library … Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived.
To see how things would be different if you had made other choices … Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?”
How many of us have wished for this chance, have pondered the possibilities?
All the books that contain Nora’s possible lives are green, except there is one book that is grey, and this book turns out the be the source of all of Nora’s problems, it is “The book of Regrets.”
It contains every regret Nora had since she was born.
And that book is pretty heavy.
The regrets range from, “I regret not doing any exercise today”, to “I regret not telling my father I loved him before he died.”
Nora ponders her biggest regret, “I wish I hadn’t left Dan” and suddenly she is in a life where she and Dan are together.
Nora will stay with Dan until she feels disappointment and then she will be transported back to the library, where she will contemplate another regret, such as not becoming an Olympic swimmer, not becoming a world-famous rock star, not becoming a Glaciologist, not getting married and becoming a mother.
And on and on it will go until she feels disappointment, disillusionment and back to the library to do it all over again.
I was with this book for the first few iterations of Nora’s life but then it would just go on and on and on and my attention wavered because I knew that she was going to be disappointed again.
But then Nora gets a taste of how her “real” life would have been if she wasn’t in it (just like Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life), and realises it wasn’t so bad.
After Nora’s epiphany comes the best chapter of the book, A Thing I Have Learned (Written By A Nobody Who Has Been Everybody).
I felt it was worth reading the book for this chapter alone, “It is easy to regret, and keep regretting, ad infinitum, until our times runs out. But it is not the lives we regret not living that are the real problem. It is the regret itself.
Might be trite but it is good to get a reminder now and then.