A Winter Reading Challenge: The Midnight Library and The Wife Upstairs

15 Dec

As the winter season approaches, many of us seek indoor shelter by a warm, cozy fire with a mug of hot chocolate or herbal tea. And what better way to enjoy this moment than curling up with a good book and wrapping yourself with a throw blanket.  This winter, I challenge you to take an adventure and read not only something new, but something out of your typical comfort zone.

Recently, I challenged myself by reading two books that I would not normally read, because of the genres. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig falls into the category of fantasy/ science fiction, which I rarely read and The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins is considered a romance novel with a touch of suspense and southern charm, which almost never appeals to me. I was, however, pleasantly surprised by both novels as they lured me into their compelling stories and quirky, offbeat characters. You can borrow them as ebooks or digital audiobooks from eLibraryNJ or eBCCLS. They are also available in print from Hoboken and other BCCLS libraries!

The Midnight Library
by Matt Haig

As a longtime Librarian, The Midnight Library initially appealed to me on one level only, its title, which intrigued me. It begins “between life and death there is a library and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices…Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?” I think many of us ponder what our lives would have been like if we had made other choices. Would you have chosen a different career path, married someone else, or lived in some far off exotic land? The possibilities are endless and arouse our imagination.

The fascinating premise suggests that somewhere beyond the edge of the universe there is a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life.  The protagonist, Nora Seed, is a middle-aged woman with low self-esteem, whose life hasn’t gone exactly as she planned since she has endured many hardships and has made many poor life choices. She is faced with the possibility of changing her life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, or realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist. Therefore, she must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place. Nora’s experiences are spell-binding and the radical changes in her life outlook are engrossing. This was a reading challenge that was definitely fulfilling and worthwhile.

The Wife Upstairs
by Rachel Hawkins

The Wife Upstairs is a completely different genre, focusing instead on romance, southern charm, and an element of suspense, only one of which (suspense) remotely appeals to me. To say I was “going out on a limb” when I selected this book to read, would be an understatement.

A young woman named Jane arrives in Birmingham, Alabama to start a new chapter in her otherwise dreary life. She is hired as a dog-walker in a gated community full of McMansions shiny BMWs, and bored housewives. The type of place where no one will notice if Jane pockets some jewelry from the side tables of her wealthy clients. And no one will think to ask if Jane is her real name.  

However, her luck changes when she meets Eddie Rochester, a recently widowed, handsome and wealthy man who lives in the luxurious gated community. His wife, Bea, drowned in a boating accident with her best friend and their bodies were never found, which causes some intrigue and suspicion in the community. Janes views Eddie as an opportunity to advance herself, because he is rich, brooding and handsome and can offer her a lifestyle that she has always yearned for.

As Jane and Eddie get closer to each other, Jane is increasingly haunted by the legend of Bea, an ambitious beauty who launched a successful southern lifestyle brand. How can plain Jane ever measure up to Bea’s beauty and success? Can she win Eddie’s heart before her past, or his, catches up to her?

The comparisons to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre are uncanny, although this a smart, modern day retelling. Although the characters are all evil and vile, I still found myself rooting for Jane with her mysterious past. She is the most sympathetic and flawed of all the characters and seems to be most well-rounded. All the plot twists and turns kept me in suspense and the haunting spirit of Bea kept me riveted. The Wife Upstairs channels the gothic atmosphere of the American South and puts a modern twist on the beloved classic Jane Eyre.    

Written by:
Ethan Galvin
Information and Digital Services Librarian

Are you up for our Winter Challenge? What books are you planning to read outside your usual genre comfort zone? Share them in our comments section!

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