Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Room

Title:  The Room
Author:  Jonas Karlsson
Publication Information:  Hogarth. 2014 (original publication in Swedish). 192 pages.
ISBN:  0804139989 / 978-0804139984

Book Source:  I received this book through the GoodReads First Reads program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The first time I walked into the room I turned back almost at once."

Favorite Quote:  "You don't turn a river by abruptly trying to get it to change direction. You don't have that much power ... On the contrary, you have to start by flowing with it. You have to capture its own force and then slowly but surely lead it in the desired direction. The river won't notice it's being led if the curve is gentle enough. On the contrary, it will think it's flowing just the same as usual, seeing as nothing seems to have changed."

Bjorn works at the Authority, which is clearly a bureaucratic government organization even though the book does not define it beyond its name. He has recently been transferred, perhaps demoted, to a new department. The setup of this office is that of a typical office environment - room offices around the periphery with doors and windows and cubicles clustered in the middle and a manager with several people reporting to him.

Bjorn's desk sits back to back with Håkan's. Thus, their space is share, with Håkan's files often ending up on Bjorn's desk. The work that they do is rather nebulous. They are given investigation files and must distill them down to a decision document. The cases are ranked by importance, with cases of different importance going to different departments. Bjorn's department does not get the high-end or the low-end cases; they are somewhere in the middle.

Bjorn's transition to the department is not a smooth one. He is the odd one out, the new kid on the block, and the "weird" one. The book is written entirely from Bjorn's perspective. So, we don't really know what his co-workers are thinking. From Bjorn's perspective, they are ganging up on him, bullying him, and conspiring against him.

For, you see, Bjorn discovers the room. The room no one else can see. The one that does not exist between the lift (elevator) and the toilets (restrooms). For Bjorn, it is quite real. The room itself is quite ordinary; it looks like and contains all the things you would find in an office. Yet, for Bjorn, it is quite extraordinary. Inside the room, everything seems clearer, brighter, and better, including Bjorn himself and his work.

The most fun part of this book is that you don't know what the reality is. You can choose to interpret it the way you like. Is Bjorn delusional? Are his skills so beyond his co-workers that he stands alone and his co-workers are threatened? Is his reality the correct one or is it his co-workers'? What idiosyncrasy is acceptable in a professional environment if you are successful at what you do? Does the end of a successful project result justify or excuse the erratic behavior that leads to it?

Of course, all those questions are the ones you can pose just taking Bjorn's story literally. A whole new set open up if the story is interpreted as a metaphor. Anyone who is new to an organization and/or who looks to change the way things have always been done faces challenges and often antagonism. Because of all the questions possible, this book would make a great book club selection.

The book is very short at under 200 pages in a 5x7 pocket size paperback. It is told from only Bjorn's perspective, and he is likely an unreliable narrator. The book relates nothing of Bjorn's life before this position or outside of work. The remaining characters are given names and one primary characteristic; they are not developed beyond that at all. The environment is only outlined to be identifiable as a bureaucratic office. Yet, in this sketch-like approach, the book evokes a professional and social set-up that many of us have found ourselves in at some point in our life. Most of us have faced both sides of the story - being new and being the one led into change. As such, the book strikes a chord and is laugh out loud funny in parts - as much for how the story is told as for the memories and connections it triggers.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment