Wednesday 18 February 2015

The Room by Jonas Karlsson

Funny, clever, surreal, and thought-provoking, this Kafka-esque masterpiece introduces the unforgettable Bjorn, an exceptionally meticulous office worker striving to live life on his own terms.

Bjorn is a compulsive, exacting 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 coworkers 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 coworkers to try to have him fired, but Bjorn will turn the tables on them with help from his secret room. 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.

Goodreads description

The Room made me uncomfortable. Not in a bad way, but because I found Bjorn's position unsettling. I have to confess that I don't find comedies like The Office funny, because I am too embarrassed for David Brent characters.

Bjorn is clearly on the autistic spectrum. The way he manages his time (55 minutes work and then 5 minutes break) is indicative enough, but more so because when the 55 minutes is broken into he regards it as ruined and decides to sit it out and start again with the next one. He totally misreads people and does not realize it. In this context his pronouncements on human behaviour would be funny if they weren't also sad: Stupid people don't always know that they're stupid. They might be aware that something was wrong, they might notice that things don't always turn out the way they imagined, but very few of them think it's because of them.

But he is also arrogant, a pedant and the kind of fellow worker who is going to get on everyone's nerves. We are not meant to like him, especially as he treats the helpful attempts of a fellow worker to show him the ropes with disdain. 
Bjorn and his fellow office workers are employed by an organization just called The Authority. The organizational culture is one of pressure and accompanying fear of loss of status and employment. As is so often the case in such circumstances, the rest of the workers express their fear in attacking a colleague - the weird Bjorn. They do not accept that Bjorn's room exists. In the meetings that the ineffectual manager organizes to resolve the matter, many are outspoken about Bjorn's mental state. Their behaviour is appalling and one's sympathy is back with Bjorn. He is still misinterpreting the situation and doing so in a way that is making things worse. 

There is a lot going on in this novel and we never know the truth about Bjorn's room. Is it a delusion? Is it magic? Is it a metaphor? The question is best left unanswered, because that way it forces the reader to question not only what happens in the book but their own behaviour in similar situations.

I received this book free from the publisher in return for a fair review.


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