The Isolation Door by Anish Majumdar

the-isolation-doorIf you’ve been reading nothing but chunksters like The Goldfinch lately, and you want to go with something a little slimmer, may I suggest The Isolation Door by Anish Majumdar. Though less than 200 pages long, it wallops you and draws you in just like a chunkster, but without the time commitment. In fact, looking back, I’m shocked that it was less than 200 pages long.

At the core of The Isolation Door are issues of mental health. Neal’s mother, who believes she is a Bollywood actress, has been repeatedly institutionalized for schitozphrenia, Neal’s friends in the university drama program are also fighting with demons of their own. Neal himself can’t seem to open up to anyone around him. Most frightening were the scenes taking place at the mental hospital, where i found the treatment of the patients to be draconian.

I’ve just made everything sound rather bleak, haven’t I? Well, the truth is, I couldn’t put the book down. I was captivated by Neal’s mother’s declining condition, the lengths Neal father would go to to protect her and the tangles relationships of Neal’s university friends. At times it almost seems as though The Isolation Door was meant to be two different novels; the two threads of the story are kept very separate, but in a way that only served to emphasize how Neal was unable to let anyone get close to him.

Who would like this book? I think The Isolation Door would appeal to a wide range of people. For me, three main aspects of the story drew me in: insight into Bengali-American life, people dealing with mental health issues and university life. Additionally, The Isolation Door is a bit of an indictment of the health system which bankrupts Neal’s family and the treatment of the mentally ill more broadly. Majumdar on his website identifies as both American and Canadian, and it makes me wonder which system he is drawing on in his depiction of mental health institutions.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.


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