“It isn’t about reading the words: it’s about reading the smell which wafts from the pages in a cloud of dust and wood pulp. It may smell expensive and well bound, or it might smell of tissue-thin paper and blurred two-color prints or of fifty years unread in the home of a tobacco smoking old man. Books can smell of cheap thrills or painstaking scholarship, of literary weight or unresolved mysteries.”
When I first picked up The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, I was awestruck by how absolutely beautiful the cover of the book was! This is the author’s debut novel which came out in 2019 and I am enthralled to have finished it.
At the start, I caught myself smiling a bit too often; I was bowled over by the how the words were threaded together. I paused a bit longer and felt overwhelmed when I first read the name of the protagonist – January.
The book is about an in-between girl January. January takes you around the world and to ones which aren’t even ours. She reaches through to the feelings that may have sunken deep within your heart and will rekindle your love for reading books, even make you look at them differently and with SO much more awe. As the title suggests, the story revolves around doors, thousands of them and January is going to make sure that all of them either remain open or are opened up again. The book addresses various topics like change, fear, people of color, courage, abandonment, etc and will make one think long and hard about each of them, individually and together.
Here are some of my favourite things about the book:
1. It makes multiple references to some of my favourite classical characters; I loved how Alice from Alice in Wonderland has been mentioned a few too many times, Rapunzel, Guilliver from Guilliver’s Travels, etc and I for sure got many Narnia feels! It’s exactly why I love contemporary fiction so much. There is something about how they elegantly reference lovable classics of recent years and bring a real-world feeling to the protagonist in the book.
2. I loved how it has a story weaved within a story. It leaves me flabbergasted every time I come across writers who manage to converge two stories or plots together – Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore was another such book which did that for me.
3. It has insightful foot notes for the story within the main story. Also, I can’t stop raving about the aesthetic elements like the handwritten letters that that have been a part of this reading journey!
4. The intricate details of January and Samuel’s relationship our left to our imagination. Nonetheless I hope that Alix E. Harrow decides to write another book to continue this story.
5. My most favorite part was January’s imaginative perspective on certain letters of the alphabet. For eg – ‘A capital D has a belly-like black archway leading into white nothing.
If you have ever believed that there is magic in the world despite contrary belief then I highly recommend this book! This is the journey of a girl to find belonging, a journey full of battles ferociously won, it will make you believe in magic and even portals! You will believe in the power you carry within yourself.
The narrative was a bit slow for me at the beginning but towards the end, it felt “as if a story could ferment in my veins, like wine and leave me drunk”. I know I will think about this book quite often for the next couple of weeks. In fact, I know I will never look at doors as simply doors but rather as ‘Doors’.
I’d rate The Ten Thousand Doors of January 4 and a half wine glasses out of 5 and I look forward to reading many more books with portals to different worlds; worlds further than our imagination can take us.