The Room Synopsis :
Funny, clever, surreal, and thought-provoking, this Kafkaesque masterpiece introduces the unforgettable Bjorn, an exceptionally meticulous office worker striving to live life on his own terms.
Bjorn is a compulsive, meticulous bureaucrat who discovers a secret room at the government office where he works–a secret room that no one else in his office will acknowledge. When Bjorn is in his room, what his co-workers see is him standing by the wall and staring off into space looking dazed, relaxed, and decidedly creepy. Bjorn’s bizarre behavior eventually leads his co-workers to try and have him fired, but Bjorn will turn the tables on them with help from his secret room.
Debut author Jonas Karlsson doesn’t leave a word out of place in this brilliant, bizarre, delightful take on how far we will go–in a world ruled by conformity–to live an individual and examined life. (Crown Publishing)
Translated from the original Swedish by Neil Smith
Jonas Karlsson’s The Room is a strong piece of literature – but one that is much darker than I had anticipated. But firstly, let me address in respect to this work, the annoying trend of ‘a Novel’ being appended to fiction titles.
At less than 200 pages, with much white space on many of those, and also stylistically, I would classify The Room as a novella rather than a novel. But, even if in my opinion it were a novel, what is the point of the additional clarification? This title presents no confusion whatsoever in respect to whether the content is fiction or not. At a stretch, it could be a nod to the slightly ‘novel’ approach taken by the Karlsson and thus the piece’s literary merit. However, I fear it is simply a publishing/marketing trend. This trend has been overdone for my tastes and is nearing pretentious.
Let us move onto the endearing protagonist Bjorn in this delightful tale – but wait a minute, Bjorn turned out to be quite the opposite of endearing. In fact, the more I read the more I disliked him. And the tale – it’s not delightful. But that’s not to say I did not like The Room.
Hannah with the ponytail was one of those women who laugh readily and can talk nonsense for hours without a single sensible thing being said. In principle I try to ignore people like that as much as possible. I simply choose not to think about them. Make up my mind that they don’t exist.
Where the publishers’ blurb does hit the mark for me is its use of the descriptor ‘Kafkaesque’. Karlsson’s narrator Bjorn reminded me very much of Joseph K in The Trial and how despite his powerlessness he persisted in clinging to notions of superiority over others. Bjorn is an unreliable narrator, quite clearly delusional and suffering from some form of stress/anxiety or even mental disorder. And this is where it gets dark… and also highly thought-provoking.
It probably depends on a readers perspective, but for someone like myself who has witnessed at close range the effects stress and anxiety can have on people in an office environment, the events that occur within The Room are less surreal and hence less ‘entertaining’ than perhaps intended. That’s not to say it is not a very successful piece though.
I found myself swept up by the dark humour featured in The Room on several occasions. The sharp chapters and Karlsson’s crisp, clean prose propelled the story along and kept tension high. Bravo to the translation by Neil Smith also.
Ultimately though, The Room’s key strength and point of difference, is that it takes these very real issues out from under the veil of political correctness they are normally shrouded in. It speaks to the trauma felt by the person suffering from the condition and also the considerable impact of that person’s actions on those around them. It also serves as a poignant reminder of how differently people can interpret the most benign of everyday occurrences.
An accessible and worthy piece of literature tackling an all too common problem.
BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5
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Genre: Literature, Mystery, Translation
This review counts towards my participation in The Eclectic Reader Challenge 2015.
Jonas Karlsson writes plays and short fiction. One of Sweden’s most prominent actors, Karlsson has performed on Sweden’s premier stage and in several acclaimed feature films and television series. In 2005, Karlsson made his debut as a playwright, earning rave reviews from audience and critics alike. Spurred by the joy of writing for the stage, Karlsson began writing fiction.
* Receiving this title free from Crown Publishing did not impact my ability to express my honest opinions in the review above.