This is one of those books that leave you speechless after you close the covers. While it was incredibly easy and enjoyable to read, it feels difficult to describe and impossible to review afterwards. But I'm determined to try... as always. :)
In a Strange Room was shortlisted for the Booker Prize last year, so (although it didn't win) I knew I could expect something good. In a nutshell, the novel tells about one man (who Has No House) and his three journeys. These three journeys are separate, kind of like three individual short stories within the novel. The main character/narrator travelling in these stories is a South African man called Damon (so by implication he is also the author?), who is a man without a home. He does not belong anywhere, he is constantly on the move, restlessly travelling from place to place.
The first story, "The Follower", describes a meeting with a fellow traveller, a German man called Reiner, in Greece. The two men share a passion for walking and decide to go on a long hike in Lesotho, Africa. Hiking, camping and spending 24 hours a day with a complete stranger creates tension between the two men - sexual and emotional tension as well as frustration and helplessness.
In the second story, "The Lover", Damon meets three backpackers, Jerome and Alice from Switzerland and Christian from France. The foursome decides to travel from Zimbabwe to Malawi to Tanzania to Kenya... The social dynamics of this little group also develop in interesting ways as they battle with visa problems, bus timetables and other annoying practicalities.
The third story, "The Guardian", was, in my opinion, the most incredible and impressive journey of the three. Damon travels to India with a South African friend, Anna, who suffers from manic depression. He tries to look after his pill-popping friend who is determined to have a holiday romance and keep Anna's girlfriend back in South Africa updated on her situation at the same time. Until everything goes horribly wrong and the journey becomes a nightmare...
This novel was so deep and intense: it's amazing what can lurk behind a few simple words and how much can be said with silences, brief looks and small touches between these travellers. The main character's alienation from the world makes him sympathetic. Despite his awkward loneliness, he seems to be always looking for something, or someone. Because of this longing, he is fascinated almost to the point of obsession about the people he meets on the road and becomes emotionally attached to strangers who literally come and go from his life.
... and in Finnish: Tämän ihmeellisen, unenomaisen romaanin suomennos, Vieraassa huoneessa, on ilmestynyt heinäkuussa Basam Booksin kustantamana. Suosittelen erityisesti Ian McEwanin romaanien ystäville! Tässä on sitä samaa intensiivistä tunnelmaa, joka luodaan vähäeleisesti rivien välissä...
Damon Galgut: In a Strange Room. Atlantic. 2010. 180 pages.
The Man Booker Prize: In a Strange Room
The Guardian: In a Strange Room
The Telegraph: In a Strange Room
Wikipedia: Damon Galgut