Saturday, May 2, 2015

Those Weird and Quirky Swedes: The Room by Jonas Karlsson

Björn is an inconsequential cog in the bureaucratic machine of The Authority. That hasn't stopped him from overestimating his abilities nor stopped him from prognosticating quick advancement through the company, leaving behind his inferior co-workers and their measly intellects. Of course this isn't how his colleagues see things, with most feeling Björn to be a weird and mentally unstable individual who threatens to disturb the the delicate equilibrium of their little department.

But how have we gotten here...look no further than the mysterious room that Björn spotted when he first began working for The Authority. He decides to see what is inside and discovers an ordinary office, with a desk and office supplies...but also a space where his mind calms and he is able to relax and think clearly.  He goes back again...and again...and again...he takes co-workers there to have conversations there...he brings a woman there for a romantic escapade. 

But something is not right. His colleagues give him weird looks, begin to avoid him, whisper behind his back. It isn't until one of his office mates asks him directly what he is doing that Björn begins to understand. While Björn tries to explain the room, he is met with consternation from the questioner who insists that there is no room and all that others have seen is Björn putting his head against the wall and shut down in silent calmness. 

This is the premise of Jonas Karlsson's weird psychological examination of bureaucracy The Room. Told solely through Björn's perspective, the reader is given the brutal details of government administration and the mental instability that comes with it. Whether its the vicious backstabbing or hideously boring work, it is little surprise that our protagonist has sought refuge in a mysterious room that may or may not exist.

For the most part this short novel was very enjoyable. While Björn is not a likeable character, we still are sympathetic to his quest, especially when his colleagues reveal their sharp talons when confronted with Björn's belief in the room. Especially enthralling, is how Björn meets the viciousness with determination and success (to the horror of his co-workers). While we are kept in the dark about the truth about the room, whether it's a fabrication of Björn's mind or something more, in the end it serves as a interesting metaphor about alienation and work. 

I did find the writing somewhat cold and clinical at times, something I have noticed before in Swedish authors, but for the most part the story moves quickly enough to get over the style. Karlsson is a playwright by trade, and if anything I can imagine this becoming a pretty amazing theatre production. 

So if you are in the mood for a odd, quirky psychological thriller...pick up this quick read and enjoy. 

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