The Isolation Door
By: Anish Majumdar
Format/Source: Paperback; won a copy from a giveaway contest held by guiltless reading
Neil Kapoor, 23, is desperate to create a life beyond the shadow of his mother’s schizophrenia. Years of successive relapses and rehabilitations have forced his father into the role of caretaker and Neil into that of silent witness. But there is no light within this joyless ritual, and any hope for the future rests on finding an exit.
Amidst her latest breakdown, Neil attends drama school in pursuit of a role that might better express the truth of who he is. What started as a desperate gambit becomes the fragile threads of a new life. A relationship blooms with Emily, and each finds strength – and demons – in the other. New friendships with Quincy and Tim grow close and complex. But the emotional remove needed to keep these two lives separate destabilizes the family. Neil’s father, the one constant in the chaos, buckles under the pressure. Enlisting the aid of an Aunt with means and questionable motives, Neil plies ever-greater deceptions to keep the darkness at bay. But this time there will be no going back. As his mother falls to terrifying depths a decision must be made: family or freedom?
This novel caught my attention when Aloi @ guiltless reading featured it in Book Beginnings on Fridays and was hosting a giveaway contest for it. I honestly don’t think I’ve read many novels–if at all–featuring mental illnesses as a major theme so I was intrigued.
The Isolation Door is narrated from Neil’s point of view as he struggles to carve out his own life while dealing with a major illness in the family. His mother’s schizophrenia has been affecting his family life for years, with his father utterly devoted to caring for his wife even as things are going bad for them, financially, legally, etc. At the same time Neil, being a young man, is trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life and is bent on getting into acting, turning to his aunt at times for support as he not only pursues his goals but also escapes the suffocating environment at home.
I do admit that I was a little perplexed somewhere halfway while reading the novel because it felt as though Neil’s social life–the friends he hangs out with, the new relationship he was developing with Emily–was more in the forefront of the story than Neil’s family life and his mother’s situation. It felt as though the tense drama with Tim and Emily and Quincy was more important than what’s happening with Neil’s parents. Then I realised that this was exactly the point: Neil at that point of the novel was just trying to live a life that wasn’t overshadowed by his mother’s illness; sure, he was constantly hiding that fact from everyone else, making up a backstory along the way, but over time it made sense why he did.
The descriptions of what Neil’s mother was going through at the institution and the treatments and routine were both horrifying and brutal to read but also eye-opening in how difficult mental illness is. As someone who is currently studying in the hopes of entering the healthcare field, it also reinforces in my mind how important it is for healthcare providers to display and act in a caring manner towards patients no matter what illness they have. Caring for an sick loved one is a very stressful experience for family members, as this book highlights, and healthcare providers should provide some relief to this stress, not add further stress; a number of individuals throughout this novel infuriated me in the way they treated both Neil’s mother and Neil himself (the book isn’t near me at the moment so I can’t double-check on the names).
The Isolation Door overall was an interesting read that brings a lot of awareness on the topic of mental illness and its effect on both the individual and the family. Culture also factors into Neil’s experience in coming to an understanding of his mother’s illness as well as in his life in general, which was interesting to read. However I think his personal journey was far more affecting; it’s a stressful thing to experience and reactions to it is not always pretty but it’s human.