Isolation

Isolation
by Denise R. Stephenson

Rating: 3.25/5

Isolation introduces us to a world where a few unfortunate characters have contracted a very nasty and deadly bug, but each have different symptoms. Then we are transported to a seemingly near future, where people are forbidden to touch their own face, in order to avoid contamination. The book then narrates the evolution of such measures and their effects on some key characters.

Negatives:

– Regarding the time leap in the beginning, I could not tell when either action took place or even how long separates the two. We also never knew characters ages. I could tell some characters we had known as very young in the past are present here in an older version (which was good) but not how old they were currently. The only time I saw any ages mentioned was when Pele was 10 and Cathy 79. Considering she was around 10 when it all started, that means roughly 70 years passed.
So it bothered me that I could never tell time. Not being able to tell when things happened was something that accompanied me throughout the book and sometimes the narrative jumped back and forth in time and was difficult to keep up with.

– I found it odd that stuff like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Craig’s List were still up and running after 70 years.

– My main problem was getting into the book.
First of all, I did not find the chapter division appealing. Secondly, reading Isolation a lot of times felt like reading a formal report on the economical, scientific, sociological and historical effects of a catastrophe, as opposed to a novel. In between these reports, we get to know a few characters, but never too deeply, in my opinion- especially in the first third to half of the book.

There is an excess of informative articles. I think that the fact that the book does not portray the effects of a single virus or bacterium but of several contributed to this, which in turn caused me to skim through information that was probably important.
Once the ‘boring’ (only because it was excessive) bit was over and I finally started getting into the story and getting to know a character, the voice would change again. There are so many voices that at some point I simply lost track. This was quite overwhelming, so I can understand why some people were unable or unwilling to stick to it.

– I could not tell why one of the characters narrated the book. If everything else was narrated using third voice, why introduce a first voice? I kept hoping that would be explained in the end but it wasn’t. I could tell this character was more in the loop than the others, but it’s still extremely confusing, because it’s not like he could narrate every single thing that showed up in the book, be it events or how the other characters felt and what they thought.

– I could not tell why such an extreme ban as face touching was set in place. First of all, I would have liked to see further alternatives explored. Secondly, why not touch just the face? What about the other orifices? If a virus can be transmitted via touching your eyes or nose, certainly it could be transmitted by other body parts and yet self-touch was allowed. Instead of getting some explanations for this, I got walls of text of technical information about bacteria, fomites, viruses, pharmaceuticals and other companies with all sorts of agendas…

– I found it odd that while the whole country was in chaos, with people panicking, looting, etc – the government and big conglomerates like the pharmaceutical company and AgriBiz still went about their business as usual, pursuing their own personal interests. While on one hand economy seemed just fine and the government appeared to be in absolute control, on the other hand there was no law enforcement set in place. It seemed a bit unrealistic, even with the later explanation of how AgriBiz had infiltrated the government. Eventually the government adapted but I still found this period a bit off.

Positives:

– I can tell there was a lot of research done for this book and that it was written with love.

– I don’t usually notice covers much but I thought this one is very successful in portraying what the book describes.

– Some if not most of the ideas the author came up with are exquisite, namely the government’s reaction to the progression of the bacterial problem, the reactions of people to the new government rules and the progressively lower difficulty in dealing with the situations as new generations were born – that was particularly scary. I loved how the author approached bathing, eating, generating energy, clothing, etc and the way she created an atmosphere of absolute and intense fear was very successful. All that was very obviously thought through and so uncomfortably completely believable!

– The second half of the book is pretty amazing. I got a good picture of who the characters were and what they had to deal with. It was hard to put myself in their shoes because what everyone takes for granted and perfectly normal (touch) simply was not a part of their world. And the author did an outstanding job portraying a world where removing this simple but so necessary thing takes out what makes us human and can turn people into beings almost completely devoid of feeling and thought.
Kids being born and growing up without ever being touched, to the point where the mere idea of touch was abhorrent, and many other notions finally hit home, giving me the shudders. At the same time, this feeling of greyness invaded me, while trying to imagine a world without hope or purpose and where, as we are told, keeping track of days is meaningless because they’re all the same.

Conclusion:

The idea behind Isolation is pretty brilliant. Some notions, particularly the ones I mentioned above, were too. I just didn’t find the execution appealing. There were too many articles, too many characters. (Some seemed pretty pointless to me, like Stacy and her twin.)
These two things, paired with the fact that the voices kept jumping made me not feel connected to the characters for a long time, and even caused me to forget some characters and which characteristics belonged to which characters. It started getting a bit better after a third or so of the book, but the fact is I felt pulled in a million directions and that wasn’t pleasant.

The chapters needed context and to be better divided. I would have liked to see dates in both the articles and the narratives. I would have liked to know characters’ ages. I would also have liked a bit more info on how the rest of the world was dealing with this. I would perhaps have liked to see all descriptions of the more secondary characters put together in one chapter, instead of having the voices change so often. At least it would have been easier to keep up.

I found the ending disappointing; I suppose it fits the whole book, but I didn’t get any closure whatsoever. I wonder if there will be a sequel, I haven’t seen in mentioned anywhere.

Generally speaking, I base my ratings on the feelings I experience while reading the book, if the book stays with me when I am done with it and how interesting and thought provoking the theme is.
The only characters that stayed with me in the end were the final two and Cathy, my favourite.
While I do find the subject very thought provoking and some aspects were extremely well executed, the fact is it took me a long time to get into the book; I had contemplated rating the book 1 or 2 stars the whole time I was reading the first third to half. The second half is a solid 4, but I have to be true to my principles and therefore rated it 3 stars.

If you think you can endure the way the book is presented, I do recommend it. The concepts are very interesting, smart and thought provoking.

Read from November 08 to 14, 2014
GR Review

I would like to thank the author for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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