"In A Strange Room" by Damon Galgut

In the book In A Strange Room we meet Damon, a South African who feels the need to be on the move, constantly travelling from one place to another. The book is divided into three parts, each consisting of a different journey.


In the first, Damon is walking through Greece when he meets a German dressed all in black along a trail. Damon is taken by this man named Reiner and later on they meet up and hike through Lesotho. Damon follows Reiner, falling into a curious and unspoken relationship between the two.


In the second story, Damon meets a group of European hikers and joins in on their travels through Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya, later meeting up with them in Europe. Here he becomes drawn to and fascinated by one of travellers, though they are separated by language.


In the third story, Damon travels to India with a friend who is trying to put her mental illness behind her. But she soon loses control and Damon finds himself as her guardian rather than her travel mate.


Each story looks at Damon in a different type of relationship - as the follower, the lover and the guardian - and through his travels looks at Damon's need to flee from himself.


The narrative of this book switches between first and third person often. This will be something that one reader enjoys while another does not. I found it brought a realness to the story, combined with the fact that the author uses his own name for the primary character which gives the story a feeling of being an actual retelling of these journeys.


There are a few criticisms of this work. Many feel that the cold style of writing and lack of real plot take away from the work. I personally felt that the style of writing really painted a picture for me of the isolation that can be experienced during travel, especially when one is running from something, and how precious human interaction can be no matter how flawed it is or how disconnected people are from it. This is a short and quick read and an enjoyable one as well.

Comments

  1. I wasn't a big fan of this book, but perhaps that is because I don't normally enjoy short stories. It was well written and easy to read, but I'm really hoping it doesn't win the Booker

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  2. While I enjoyed the book I was a bit surprised that it was a Booker nominee (not that I fully understand the process but having read 4 of the 6 from the shortlist I'm surprised it was there.) I personally felt that Room and A Long Song were better reads, though this one was still enjoyable.

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