Source: Hogarth Books – I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.
Edition: Paperback, 186 pages
Genre: Contemporary, Magical Realism
Purchase: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Book Depository*
*I receive a small monetary kickback from Amazon purchases
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.
The Room is one of those books that feels like it should be in a school curriculum somewhere. It’s a bit bizarre and even though the plot is fairly shallow there is still plenty to discuss and analyze.
Bjorn has just gotten a job at the Authority and has plans to become the best worker there. He’s incredibly compulsive and efficient in his work, but his personality is bizarre. I wouldn’t say he’s a likable character, though I will say I was quite invested in his mental stability which I questioned the whole time. While at the office he finds a room, or The Room to be precise, and it begins a very odd and addicting tale of Bjorn’s obsession with it. He finds The Room to be a calming place, but his co-workers hate the idea of it and find it unsettling.
I love that the setting is in a bland corporate workplace that is easily relatable to anyone who has had a similar job. It kind of comes off as a satire of how bland and repetitive it can be. It also works on a few other levels as well. On one hand it could very well be about how people handle individuality in such a stark environment, or how they respond to possible mental illness. On the other it also works as a psychological thriller of sorts as we watch Bjorn’s obsession grow and question if his sanity is at stake (or if it’s everyone else’s).
Bjorn is a rather hard to like character and his reactions to normal everyday things come off as very rigid and incomprehensible, leading me to believe he could have some sort of mental illness. He also has an ego problem, which he sees as a blatant truth and not arrogance. And since the story is told from his point of view we also get a very unreliable narration of events. We don’t know who is telling the truth in the end, because Bjorn looks at the world in a completely different way.
I’m so happy I took the time to request this one. I find that even in it’s simplicity this book has a bit of genius in it. I would definitely recommend it to someone who has a quirky sense of humor and doesn’t mind a more existential read. I’ve also heard that it is comparable to Kafka, which I’ve yet to read, so if you’re a fan of books like The Metamorphosis than by all means find a copy!
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