Title: The Room
Author: Jonas Karlsson
Opens: The first time I walked into the room I turned back almost at once
My Thoughts: THE ROOM is narrated by Bjorn as he starts a new job after leaving his previous position in slightly murky circumstances. Whatever the implied reason for his change in job circumstances he sees it as a step up the promotion ladder, the reader is not quite sure. Whether Bjorn is a reliable narrator is something that readers will need to sort out for themselves – my personal take is that I would suspect not. At first he seems like any other person who is focussed on rising to the top of their career. That he is obviously intelligent is not in question, that he is socially inept is not in question either, what is in question is his mental state and how organisations deal with someone who, it becomes increasingly apparent, has an obvious mental issues. As THE ROOM progresses the reader slowly comes to doubt the reality of what Bjorn is saying and to eventually doubt his sanity; at the same time the reader will start to doubt the other characters and their motives, and yes even their collective sanity; finally, the reader may even start to doubt their own perceptions of reality.
A short yet surreal story, all the action seems to be based mostly in reality, but whose? The government office where Bjorn works will ring true for public servants across the world. Bjorn is the office odd bod/ weirdo even – oh come on, we have all worked with one. Sadly the office weirdo is often in need of help rather than derision. Bjorn has such a set routine, a strong perception of how other people should be, and an inability to interact with his work colleagues that you immediately start to wonder if he might have some form of Asperger’s – which then makes you feel guilty for thinking him as odd. The whole situation begins with Bjorn annoying his colleagues by his inability to fit in, and in turn the colleagues annoy Bjorn for not doing things properly in his opinion. He rewrites conversation in his mind so they say what he believes is happening, which is the readers first inkling that Bjorn may not be a reliable narrator. The escalating situation overwhelms Bjorn to the extent that he needs time to gather himself mentally, and this is when he discovers the room. It is a small unused office near the toilets with a desk and chair. Bjorn starts to use it. The room becomes a soothing refuge from the main office, a place where he can work more quickly and efficiently. The trouble is when Bjorn goes into the room; his colleagues see something much different, what they see is the ‘weird one’ standing motionlessly and staring at a blank wall, as if he has shut down. And that is when Bjorn’s idealism clashes with his colleague’s realism – they doubt his sanity whilst he suspects conspiracy – how can they not see the room.
I did not like Bjorn as a person; I would hate working with someone like Bjorn and it would be an HR minefield dealing with a Bjorn-like person in the workplace. This is not to say I have issues with people with mental issues in the workplace – far from it. I worked with a person who had Asperger’s and he was a delightfully quirky character who the whole office got on with and accepted his quirkier habits. In THE ROOM Bjorn does not have nice personality, and I couldn’t feel a lot of pity for the events that followed, well only a little, and that is the crux of my problem. Does it make me a bad person to not like someone who is clearly under the influence of a mental illness? Alternatively should I force myself to like someone because they do? To be fair though I don’t much like his ‘normal’ colleagues either, although many would argue what is normal? In reality working with someone who has mental issues should not end up the way it did in THE ROOM. There appeared to be no compassion from any of them at all, and the one attempt at counselling/diagnosis was a joke.
Summed up THE ROOM is very thought provoking, and anyone who has gone through stressful events in an office environment will find themselves relating too much of what occurs. Jonas Karlsson does not stick to political correctness when dealing with mental issues in the workplace, instead he brings out the reality of what occurs – the whispers, the intervention, the counselling – in fact anything that political correctness says should happen does happen – and as in real life political correctness adds to the problem. Just because an action is the politically correct way to do something, doesn’t mean it is the right way, and can make things much worse. I went out of my comfort zone while reading THE ROOM – but I cannot recommend enough; is there a room, and if so where is it? Read it for yourself and make your own mind up
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A – Excellent Stuff – a real page turner and hard to put down. I carved out extra reading time just so I could finish it. This book got carted into the bathroom with me, read over meals, read at work, and/or kept me up late at night. If this author has more work, I will certainly read it.
With thanks to Crown Publishing and the author via Netgalley for my copy to read and review.