Book Reviews

The Room by Jonas Karlsson * Book Review

I don’t think I have been so intrigued about a book in a long time. Following You – Caroline Kepnes Book Review and Hidden Bodies, I think I developed a sort of a taste for the life adventures of a psychopath. Or in this specific case, a person with so few social skills it makes the recluse Loch Ness Monster look like a Miami socialite 🙂

The best way to prove this is from this lovely conversation started with the receptionist:

“My name’s Margareta, by the way.” “Oh,” I said, then thought that I ought to say something more. She looked as if she were expecting a reply, but what could I say? What could I possibly have to say about her name? Her name was Margareta. Okay. Good. Nice name.”

It’s the story of an office clerk working in Sweeden. He’s self-obsessed, slightly narcisistic, can’t take any form of disagreement and is compulsive about order (be it how his colleague’s papers keep creeping on his desk or how people’s jackets don’t seem to be as neat and tidy as his).

“Her skirt was nice, but she was wearing a dull-colored blouse that wasn’t at all attractive. I’d have to remember to tell her not to wear it when she was with me if the two of us were going to get together, I thought”

Bjorn devised an image in his own mind of how he wants to be portrayed.

It probably didn’t sit well with the accepted image of a newcomer, but it fit with the reputation for ambition and tough tactics that I was happy to help spread about myself.

He adopted a stringent personal framework, of 55 minutes work and then 5 minutes break and avoided socialising. But I had noticed that he becomes easily ruffled; an interruption to his routine or a colour pattern in a drawing that wasn’t right, can really throw him off. Which makes me believe there might be signs of mental disorder of some sort. But either way his work colleagues found him weird.

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He’s somewhat ambitious and decides that he’s going to move up quickly. However, his plan is quickly thwarted when he discovers a secret room in the office that only he can see. Of course, his coworkers think he’s crazy and tension ensues.

Now, if you were the only one who can see a door handle and a wooden frame and a room and everyone else would tell you there is no such thing there, would you scoff and walk away? ‘Cause that’s what our guy, Bjorn, did. He thinks it’s all a massive prank as he can see that door and walk in the room. The story is somehow different from the other perspective. His coworkers see this guy going and staring at a wall, not moving an inch – even when his phone rings in his pocket. So he sets on to convince them that the room is there and even gathers all of them to point to the door handle. No-one sees what he is seeing!

“You don’t turn a river by abruptly trying to get it to change direction. You don’t have that much power. No matter how strong you are. The river will just overwhelm you and obstinately carry on pretty much as before. You can’t make it change direction overnight. No one can. On the contrary, you have to start by flowing with it. You have to capture its own force and then slowly but surely lead it in the desired direction. The river won’t notice it’s being led if the curve is gentle enough. On the contrary, it will think it’s flowing just the same as usual, seeing as nothing seems to have changed.”

Decidedly creepy. The book starts getting funny as you can definitely tell he has a screw loose and his co-workers want to get him fired. He’s staying though and even gets a new pair of shoes for the office! (I had to laugh when his co-workers went to complain that they should get a pair too! Or where had the money come from?) I loved the awkward social interractions, like how he was sitting next to a girl to talk to her and when she does not acknowledge him after the first few words, he still stands there for 10 whole minutes before giving up and going away.

“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.”

The Room is absolutely brilliant. An original and delightfully, peculiar short story that will appeal to people with a warped sense of humour, as nothing really specular happens. It’s a keen observation of office workers in a typical open plan office environment, set in dead of winter in Stockholm. But the office location could be anywhere as it had the same feeling and atmosphere of any office workspace that I’ve worked in. It’s a glimpse into office interactions, work procedures, office celebrations/parties through the eyes of an eccentric new comer Bjorn with a hint of the unexplained. Or is it supernatural!? Or perhaps it’s madness!? Take your pick!!

Karlsson’s writing is methodical, precise, and picture perfect, and if this is his beginning, I can’t imagine the trajectory of his career. This was originally written in Swedish, so I have to give a hats off to the translator, Neil Smith.

I could see this being a perfect book club selection as well. The existential elements beg to be discussed and contextualized.

Tags: Mental Health Awareness Week May 2017 (3 books on the loneliness of the sole survivor)

Books dealing with mental health

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