Tuesday, June 2, 2015

In his own space

The Room by Jonas Karlsson


Björn's recent promotion must mean he's on his way, headed straight for the top. Of course, new surroundings can be stressful, particularly learning to get along with your new colleagues. As talented and intelligent as Björn is, he doesn't make friends easily; he'd rather just put his head down and do his job. Not long after Björn moves to his new office, he finds a room between the elevators and the toilets. It is the perfect office - clean, well lit, perfectly decorated, and more importantly, no one seems to be using it. Since Björn feels so good while he's in there, why not take advantage.

It isn't easy writing a review of this book, mostly because this is a very unusual novel (or rather novella, due to its brevity). What Karlsson has done here is give us a very simple story, about something that is actually very complex. Karlsson seems to be making a statement about conformity vs. individuality. On the one hand, Björn is a conformist to the utmost; he's making his way up the chain of command, certain that he has all the qualities and abilities necessary to make it to the top. He even is calculating with whom it would be worth building some sort of lukewarm relationship, to make sure he's in on just enough of the office gossip loop. He certainly believes he's better than everyone else is; either he's just a pain or he could possibly have mild Asperger's syndrome. One way or the other, while he seemingly is trying to fit in, that only sets him apart.

That would mean that despite his desire to conform, Björn is ultimately, extremely discordant. We soon realize that no one sees that room except Björn. All his coworkers see is Björn standing in front of a wall, oblivious to everything and everyone. Of course, Björn thinks they're playing an elaborate prank on him, while everyone thinks he's crazy. This whole situation is surreal, to say the least, but told with such simplicity of language that one might think Björn isn't as smart as he thinks. Furthermore, since Karlsson writes this in first-person, all we get are Björn's thoughts and his reactions to his surroundings. In this way, it is almost as if Karlsson wants us to observe Björn, while allowing us to judge him at the same time.
All this raises the question, how can we remain true to ourselves, while trying to be part of a whole. At the same time, this book makes us wonder if we really need to fit in, and if not, will this affect how we conduct ourselves when we are among others.

I have to say that this combination was actually very witty and amusing. I found myself smiling throughout reading this book, even when Björn was feeling uncomfortable in certain situations. This is probably works because the conceit here is that we know the truth, we know people like Björn, and while they can make us feel uneasy, they make us laugh as well, even when we're feeling sorry for them. This makes for a unique (and quick) read, which instead of being overly obscure or heavy in its somewhat Kafkaesque atmosphere is a lovely and lively gem of a story. For all this (and in full knowledge that many readers will despise this book), I warmly recommend it and will even go so far as to give it a full five stars.

 
"The Room" by Jonas Karlsson published by Crown Publishing, Hogarth, released February 15, 2015 is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (for other eReader formats), iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for giving me an advance reader copy of this book for review via NetGalley.