Friday, January 21, 2011

BOOK: In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut

In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut, 180 pages

Booker Challenge: shortlist 2010

If I was reading like Jackie at Farm Lane Books this year, I never would have finished this book. It was just okay, and after the great reads I've had this year so far, it's meh-ness was stark in comparison. (The House at Riverton, Dash and Lily, Case Histories, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies) However, it was only 170 pages, and parts were better than the whole.

First, I have to mention the unorthodox stylings. It's told in the first person, but the first person tells in mostly in the third person, sometimes switching within a single sentence. Most of this information reaches him through Anna's girlfriend, with whom I have long tearful conversations almost every day. p 173
See? It wasn't as confusing as you'd expect, except for the chapter where 'he' was travelling with another man, so the he's got a tad confusing. I was not able to determine why this shift happened. Also, no quotation marks, or question marks. Playing with punctuation seems to make the writing more literary. Ironically, I blasted my high school students today for not using upper case letters to start their sentences or periods to end sentences. (Maybe they are all hidden literary authors?) Their response: it's not English class, you can't penalize us in physics. In the words of Pierre Elliot Trudeau: Watch me.

I guess it's a travel book, a meditative musing for by folks who find ways to spend their days travelling, not working or making a living. A literary version of Eat, Pray, Love, mayhaps? This is Follower, Lover, Guardian as the narrator takes on different roles in his different travels for each chapter. And while parts of each chapter were interesting, there was no overall plot or theme or reason for any of the three chapter that I was able to discern. It's almost three short stories or novellas, but nothing happens in any of them so they couldn't really stand alone, except some people meet, and travel, and have events happen to them. Not enough happens to call these adventures.

Then he sits in the sun, listening to the water, reading. In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep, you are not. And when you are filled with sleep, you never were.The words come to him from a long way off.p 46

This is one of those books that gets nominated for awards (shortlisted for the Man Booker last year) that makes you go, huh? I was concerned initially when I read the blurb on the cover - "A major writer worthy to be referred to as a kindred spirit of the great Coetzee" by the Irish Times. I'll never actually read all the Booker winners because I'm not reading anther book by, you guessed it, Coetzee. Can't do it. Galgut doesn't fall on my Never Read Anything Again list like Coetzee; Galgut has an easy style and I did like pieces of the story - the Guardian chapter was the most readable. And I found a lot of reviews of the book by readers who quite enjoyed the book.

also reviewed: gwen at literary license, lizzy at lizzy's literary life, carrie at nomadreader, jackie at farmlanebooks,