The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
January is a misfit in her own world. As a woman of color in White upper-class New England society, she’s a curiosity, an oddity, meant to be admired for her uniqueness and then forgotten. Until she finds a book. A book about doors, and their impossible nature. A book that is going to change her life.
Holy shit I loved this book.
How can I even sum into words how much I loved it? And also—at the same time that I was falling in love with the lyrical, beautiful and haunting prose, just wanted the author to get on with the plot already.
Because the book itself is slow. Ploddingly slow. Not much happens. Until the end, where the climax ends with a mustache-twirling villainy monologue.
But it’s so beautifully written that I ignored much of it (and the audiobook narration is superb) for the words themselves, and the descriptions of the early 1900s and the worlds beyond that time.
It felt so well researched and was so beautifully imagined, and the Americas world addressed many themes of racism, femininity, conformity, coming of age, classism and so much more, and the intersection of all of these things. Insanity and the diagnosis thereof was another heavy topic, and how young women who just did not fit in were sent to bleak and brutal asylums, their independence and individuality beaten out of them through boredom, lack of stimulation and actual beatings, along with their very literal dehumanization and reduction to literal objects. And the women depicted in this book were women of privilege.
But I loved so much the dual timeline of January and Ada (I think I’m spelling that right) and the book, The Ten Thousand Doors of January, who both wanted freedom from society’s expectations and achieved it in different ways—Ada through actually leaving and January by escaping into the world of books.
While the revelation of that particular book is not a huge twist (you can see it coming a mile away), I did like the particularly meta-ness of the book within a book concept, which bridges into the entire metaphor of doors as links to other worlds and that books are also doors.
The concept of doors was beautiful and elegantly explained, and I absolutely loved the descriptions of the different worlds, particularly Julian’s world, and their concepts of scholarly research and creativity and language (where ten thousand means infinity and how that was incorporated was just so beautiful—how many times can I say beautiful in this review??).
A final topic, before I tell you to leave this review and read the damn book yourself: the concept of White privilege and White society.
It’s woven through the entire book, with White men literally taking whatever they want because it all belongs to them and they can’t imagine a world where that would not be so, and where anything that doesn’t fit their image of society is barbaric and so therefore beneath them and so therefore up for the taking and dismantling. And thus the basis of colonialism and destruction of other cultures and the darker nature of museums and private collections of “rarities” and “artifacts.”
But throughout it all is hope, because of doors. Doors, the physical links to different rooms, worlds and cultures, that link us together and bring difference through a shared connection. Even locked, broken or damaged, doors have the potential for change.
Because all locked doors can be opened.
You just need a key.
And if you’ve suffered through my entire review, one final thought:
READ THIS BOOK.