“That night I went through my reprimand sentence by sentence, word for word, and it got better each time.”
“I put on a CD of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, but soon swapped it for one of Sting’s albums, only to switch to Dire Straits and then John Cougar Mellencamp. I didn’t really feel like listening to any of them, but liked the idea of associating with the very best.” — Jonas Karlsson, The Room
In the 2014 novel The Room, our protagonist, Björn, works in a standard corporate office simply titled “the Authority.”
Everyday he checks in, ties on his indoor shoes and shovels numbered files across a desk; it’s a beige existence. But obsessively-driven Björn will not be distracted from his scheme to move up the corporate ladder.
While at first take you may assume he’s simply following the normal pursuit of hierarchical success, it quickly becomes obvious something ticks false. Yes, Björn is painfully socially awkward (and we all love rooting for the quirky underdog), but he is also uncompromising, strictly-controlled and even in his most basic interactions with others there’s an undercurrent of his narcissistic and paranoid plan for advancement and opportunity.
Written by Swedish playwright Jonas Karlsson, this fictional study of obsession with power has similar characteristics to a theatre piece: it moves at a fast-paced tempo without flowery applications, but reaches surprising depth in a short space.
The quandary: Björn’s dogged determination is ultimately destructive. When he starts finding solace in an unused room at the office, his co-workers become agitated and nervous around him, they don’t see the room as he sees it.
Is Björn going crazy? In his search for control, Björn seems to have less and less power of discerning the truth.
Most of the scenes take place in Björn’s head, so detailed or specific descriptions are applied sparsely and with little romance, much like our general image of the tedium of corporate office culture. In fact, this story bleeds with a sharp illustrative style that sets a tone; Karlsson’s use of style and language to relay the restraint and confusion in the story is outstanding. With first person narration we are near to the tumult of Björn’s reasoning but, without another perspective, we’re left on edge wondering what or whose reality truly is real.
Simultaneously, the clips of summarized dialogue model the terse atmosphere of living in Björn’s head. While many will find humour here, be warned: if this book is a comedy, it’s a dark one, and the psychological trip it undertakes will likely have a polarizing effect in people’s appreciation of it.
Quick and off-kilter, you’ll skim through these pages with confused laughter and mixed feelings of doubt, delight and discomfort. It’s a truly fine-tuned writer that can make you feel so much in a small novel like The Room.