cover image The Room

The Room

Jonas Karlsson, trans. from the Swedish by Neil Smith. Random/Hogarth, $14 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-8041-3998-4

Swedish actor and playwright Karlsson’s short novel offers a monologue that builds from simple office satire to a reality-bending psychological profile with insights into the nature and importance of personal space. Bjorn, a Stockholm bureaucrat, is a meticulous but unreliable narrator whose sense of superiority comes in conflict with the facts. When his boss eases him into another job, a demotion in several ways, Bjorn sees it as his chance to blossom into his full potential, which unfolds in a series of short, often humorous, and increasingly disturbing narratives. Bjorn begins the new job by organizing his days into 55-minute intervals with five-minute breaks. During one such break, he sees a door. When he steps inside, he finds a small, tidy, unused office. The problem with this room is no one else sees it—and it’s not the only thing Bjorn sees that others do not. In the receptionist’s smile Bjorn sees an invitation; in his desk-mate’s pile of papers he sees encroachment; in his coworkers’ denial of the room he sees conspiracy. Bjorn visits a psychiatrist, promises to never reenter the room, and meanwhile devises a strategy to defeat his adversaries. Karlsson deftly captures individual voices, which he conveys directly (as Bjorn reveals his obsessions) and indirectly (as Bjorn describes interactions with coworkers). Using Bjorn’s voice to draw characters and build dramatic tension, Karlsson exposes the gifts and gaffes, visions and delusions, and the rise and fall of a seemingly ordinary civil servant. (Feb.)