Chapter no 47 – Lost in the Library

The Midnight Library

‘Mrs Elm?’

‘Yes, Nora, what’s the matter?’ ‘It’s dark.’

‘I had noticed.’

at’s not a good sign, is it?’

‘No,’ said Mrs Elm, sounding flustered. ‘You know perfectly well it’s not a good sign.’

‘I can’t go on.’

‘You always say that.’

‘I have run out of lives. I have been everything. And yet I always end up back here. ere is always something that stops my enjoyment. Always. I feel ungrateful.’

‘Well, you shouldn’t. And you haven’t run out of anything.’ Mrs Elm paused to sigh. ‘Did you know that every time you choose a book it never returns to the shelves?’


‘Which is why you can never go back into a life you have tried. ere always needs to be some . . . variation on a theme. In the Midnight Library, you can’t take the same book out twice.’

‘I don’t follow.’

‘Well, even in the dark you know these shelves are as full as the last time you looked. Feel them, if you like.’

Nora didn’t feel them. ‘Yeah. I know they are.’

ey’re exactly as full as they were when you first arrived here, aren’t they?’

‘I don’t—’

at means there are still as many possible lives out there for you as there ever were. An infinite number, in fact. You can never run out of possibilities.’

‘But you can run out of wanting them.’ ‘Oh Nora.’

‘Oh what?’

ere was a pause, in the darkness. Nora pressed the small light on her watch, just to check.


‘I think,’ Mrs Elm said eventually, ‘if I may say so without being rude – I think you might have lost your way a little bit.’

‘Isn’t that why I came to the Midnight Library in the first place? Because I had lost my way?’

‘Well, yes. But now you are lost within your lostness. Which is to say, very lost indeed. You are not going to find the way you want to live like this.’

‘What if there was never a way? What if I am . . . trapped?’

‘So long as there are still books on the shelves, you are never trapped.

Every book is a potential escape.’

‘I just don’t understand life,’ sulked Nora.

‘You don’t have to understand life. You just have to live it.’

Nora shook her head. is was a bit too much for a Philosophy graduate to take.

‘But I don’t want to be like this,’ Nora told her. ‘I don’t want to be like Hugo. I don’t want to keep flicking between lives for ever.’

‘All right. en you need to listen carefully to me. Now, do you want my advice or don’t you?’

‘Well, yeah. Of course. It feels a little late, but yes, Mrs Elm, I would be very grateful for your advice on this.’

‘Right. Well. I think you have reached a point where you can’t see the wood for the trees.’

‘I’m not quite sure what you mean.’

‘You are right to think of these lives like a piano where you’re playing tunes that aren’t really you. You are forgetting who you are. In becoming everyone, you are becoming no one. You are forgetting your root life. You are forgetting what worked for you and what didn’t. You are forgetting your regrets.’

‘I’ve been through my regrets.’ ‘No. Not all of them.’

‘Well, not every single minor one. No, obviously.’ ‘You need to look at e Book of Regrets again.’ ‘How can I do that in the pitch dark?’

‘Because you already know the whole book. Because it’s inside you. Just as

. . . just as I am.’

She remembered Dylan telling her he had seen Mrs Elm near the care home. She thought about telling her this but decided against it. ‘Right.’

‘We only know what we perceive. Everything we experience is ultimately just our perception of it. “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”’

‘You know oreau?’ ‘Of course. If you do.’

e thing is, I don’t know what I regret any more.’

‘Okay, well, let’s see. You say that I am just a perception. en why did you perceive me? Why am I – Mrs Elm – the person you see?’

‘I don’t know. Because you were someone I trusted. You were kind to me.’ ‘Kindness is a strong force.’

‘And rare.’

‘You might be looking in the wrong places.’ ‘Maybe.’

e dark was punctured by the slow rising glow of the light bulbs all around the library.

‘So where else in your root life have you felt that? Kindness?’

Nora remembered the night Ash knocked on her door. Maybe liing a dead cat off the road and carrying it in the rain around to her flat’s tiny back garden and then burying it on her behalf because she was sobbing drunkenly with grief wasn’t the most archetypally romantic thing in the world. But it certainly qualified as kind, to take forty minutes out of your run and help someone in need while only accepting a glass of water in return.

She hadn’t really been able to appreciate that kindness at the time. Her grief and despair had been too strong. But now she thought about it, it had really been quite remarkable.

‘I think I know,’ she said. ‘It was right there in front of me, the night before I tried to kill myself.’

‘Yesterday evening, you mean?’

‘I suppose. Yes. Ash. e surgeon. e one who found Volts. Who once asked me out for coee. Years ago. When I was with Dan. I’d said no, well, because I was with Dan. But what if I hadn’t been? What if I had broken up with Dan and gone on that coee date and had dared, on a Saturday, with all the shop watching, to say yes to a coee? Because there must be a life in which I was single in that moment and where I said what I wanted to say. Where I said, ‘‘Yes, I would like to go for a coee sometime, Ash, that would be lovely.’’ Where I picked Ash. I’d like to have a go at that life. Where would that have taken me?’

And in the dark she heard the familiar sound of the shelves beginning to move, slowly, with a creak, then faster, smoother, until Mrs Elm spotted the book, the life, in question.

‘Right there.’

You'll Also Like