(Contains no spoilers)
In a Strange Room is by well known South African writer Damon Galgut. This is the story of global travel and directionless transience. Of a man desperate for meaning and yet terminally lacking in hope.
Part memoir, part fiction, it’s unlike any other travel book you’ve ever read, because it evokes a sense of pointless and nihilism that’s very rarely portrayed in this genre.
Travel writers are generally so obsessed with depicting travel experiences as being rich and full of transformative power and life-affirming events. This novel turns that stereotype on its head. Although I probably make it sound boring or depressing to read, it’s anything but!
There is an unsettling, sad and humanistic quality to the writing. The writing style rockets along at a fast pace. Anyone who has ever felt lost, lonely, distant or depressed can’t help but relate to the protagonist Damon. This character is indisputably alone, he feels this in his bones. This isn’t helped by the fact that he’s gay and becomes fixated on men of ambiguous sexual orientation. Some of whom seem to string him along indefinitely.
Galgut shifts between the first and second person tense. Yet this isn’t as disruptive as you would imagine. Instead the reader is invited to see the story from two perspectives. One has Damon telling the story as if it happened directly to him, the other tells the story from a position once removed from reality, as though Damon is not himself but a ‘dark stranger’ watching impartially from a distance in the shadows. This sense of unnerving isolation stays with you as you read the novel.
This is the sort of unconventional, brutally honest and unsettling novel that will linger long after you read it. Galgut got shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2010 and it’s little wonder why.
Get This Book Mailed to You!
Yes, you can win this book. I will mail it (for free) to the person who gives me the best response to this question in the comments below…
What does travel mean for you? What has travel given you in the past?
Competition finishes 1st March 2015.