The strange room in a strange place called Life
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? His journey is laden with a sense of a search for some meaning, for life, for existence to have meaning. Death haunts and is a tangible presence in each story. Each journey is a journey towards death, like all lives journey towards death.
I was reminded of a shadow tale behind ‘In A Strange Room’ – the myth of the man who is told he will die today. He flees the city he is living in, to escape ‘death’ and journeys to a strange place, where he meets ‘Death’ who tells him that he, Death, suddenly had a message to travel from the city to this place, in order to keep his appointment with the man. Run as we may, death awaits us.
This is a very beautiful and haunting book, a meditation on what it means to travel, what we may run from, and what we are always journeying towards.
“You go from one place to another place, and on to somewhere else again, and already behind you there is no trace that you were ever there. The roads you went down yesterday are full of different people now, none of them knows who you are”
In A Strange Room Amazon UK
In A Strange Room Amazon USA