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In a Strange Room Paperback – 1 Apr 2011

3.5 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews

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Paperback, 1 Apr 2011
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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (1 April 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848873247
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848873247
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.4 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 455,695 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

Superb... With this new book Galgut has struck out in a new direction and taken his writing to a whole other level. It is a quite astonishing work. --William Skidelsky, Observer

Acute, beautiful, unsettling. I have rarely felt so moved whilst reading. --Sarah Hall, The Times

One of the most beautiful and unsettling books I've ever read. I can't remember a more troubling and intense study of rootlessness and loneliness; Galgut is a writer of great, almost frightening, depth. --Tash Aw

From the Publisher

SHORTLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2010 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
It's probably best that you don't expect this novel to behave like most novels: it doesn't. Had I not been told that I was reading a novel, I would probably have thought it was a memoir. The novel comprises three stories, each one a journey - the emotional journey is far more important than the physical - that the protagonist (a writer also named Damon) takes. His travels take him to Greece, across various African counties, to Switzerland and south India. Here he meets and travels with a range of people who deeply affect both him and you as the reader. In fact, I found it to be one of the most emotional novels that I have read for a long time.

If you have ever travelled under your own stream, alone or off the beaten track, I am sure you'll find Damon's emotions resonant. Galgut's language is simple and hugely compelling. Despite his refusal to engage with conventional punctuation and a shifting - sometimes apparently arbitrary - use of 'I' and 'he', the book is deceptively easy to read. Often in just a handful of words Galgut manages to conjure landscapes and emotions that would take other writers paragraphs to achieve. It's one of those novels that helps you to form incredibly vivid pictures in your head. Although (with one key exception) the novel is rarely about major incidents, it plays like a page-turner. I read the book in 2 sittings, thrown by how compelling I found it. It is a book that confounded my expectations, and was the best present I was given last Christmas.
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Format: Hardcover
I readily admit that my knowledge of "travel writing" begins and ends with Bill Bryson. So when I learned that 'In A Strange Room' is a road novel grounded in the facts of an actual journey across Africa and India, my interested piqued - maybe it would offer me an easy way into the alien landscapes of travel writing via the comfortingly familiar scenery of narrative fiction. Oh so naive me. Far from the light-hearted reading I had anticipated, In A Strange Room is a challenging, often abstract novel; an experiment in form that defies genre and isn't troubled by such mitigating concepts as `meaning' or `realism'. Its simple, sparse prose hides beneath it a veritable smorgasbord of themes, ideas and questions; never has the description `still waters run deep' rung more true.

'In A Strange Room' comprises three short stories (all previously published in The Paris Review), each of which follows a journey made by Damon, an itinerant South African who simultaneously is and isn't Damon Galgut the author. The book doesn't so much blur the boundaries of autobiography and fiction as it does tie them into an indistinguishable knot, hand the knot to the reader and say, with a smug but sad demeanour, `good luck untying that one'. There's a tension between memory and invention that is never resolved; what did happen and what could have happened is the dichotomy that defines this book, and the key relationship is between the writer and his protagonist alter-ego. I suppose it's fitting, given this duality, that my copy was accidentally double-bound with two dust jackets, instead of one.

It's got an odd lay-out for a novel: no scene is longer than a single paragraph, and there are several of these on every page.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a quietly bleak, haunting journey, which snags and ellipses its themes. The book is a spider's web, easily trapping the reader by its simple, pared back prose. Enter into its surroundings, and you won't get out easily. The central character in this book by the South African author Damon Galgut is a restlessly travelling South African author called Damon. Presumably, he both is and isn't the author, as we are made aware the travelling Damon is not the one who is now writing the book. Memory and the imposed patterns of reflection on the past have made a story of events. Its possible/probable that the 'real' Damon writer who wrote this book has shaped the written story that the 'I' of the book has shaped about his central character's journey.

Confused? This is part of the book's charm - it lures you onwards, leaving you, like 'Damon' unable to rest. You have to keep on seeking, trying to get to the centre.

In the first of the 3 long journeying events, Damon walks widening ellipses across the landscape of Lesotho, with an enigmatic and beautiful German doppelganger of sorts. In the second story, he is again journeying with a group of strangers, and another beautiful young man haunts him. 'Damon' yearns to connect (as he did with the German, Reiner, at times), but his own flaw is that though on one level he yearns for connection, and tires of his restlessness, he cannot take the plunge into intimacy. In the third journey, in India, his companion is a female friend teetering and plunging into madness. In friendship he is capable of deep tenderness and commitment, deep feeling, in fact overwhelmed by feeling, in a way that he is unable to give himself up to with the potential lovers.

What are these restless journeys, this inability to be? What is Damon ever seeking?
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In A Strange Room was a runner up alongside C, Room, The Long Song, and Parrot and Olivier in America, for the 2010 Man Booker Prize eventually won by Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question which I have also reviewed.

Although it is a novel it feels strangely unlike one. The protagonist is a South African writer, also named Damon, although this is a work of fiction, the character and the writer share their story. It bears more comparison to Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried however than to Paul Auster's New York Trilogy, which is a blessing. Like those two books, this novel also feels more like connected short stories than a traditional novel. Again, as with those books I started it with no idea what it was about. Metafiction, and I believe this counts, seems to be following me.

The story or rather stories, are travel stories, tapping into the new culture of going travelling, taking a gap year or going off to India to find oneself, which has so very nearly become a cliche. In these stories, Galgut exams the experience of the solo traveller, who by necessity almost, becomes involved in the lives of other travellers met along the road, and the potential artificiality or depth of those short-lived intimacies.

Each story has a different title, 'The Follower', 'The Lover' and 'The Guardian' and it seems to me that Galgut examines the different selves you become around different people, either by the role you play in their life or the self you make yourself be to fit in with them. Like acting, and in this case with the various destinations, all the world is a stage. It also makes the clear point that the relationships you create via travelling become unsustainable in the real world, or will break down under the pressures of existing in a foreign land.
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