49 internautes sur 53 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
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Format: Format Kindle
In a Strange Room is a curious book to describe. It could well be described as both a novel or three stories/novellas. The narrator is the same throughout the stories, and they're heavily connected through theme. None of the other characters or events transcend their sections, but it still felt like a novel to me. Regardless of its structural semantics, it's ultimately the tale of a South African man who travels the world (Africa, Europe and India) forming bonds with his fellow wanderers.
Galgut's writing captured me from the beginning of this novel. When he writes dialogue, he doesn't use quotation marks. Instead, he adds a blank line in between each speaker. He doesn't use question marks either, which brings a poignancy and nuance to many of the conversational statements that can work as both questions and statements. Using quotation marks and question marks yields fewer meanings, but Galgut avoids them and creates a concise prose with the beautiful vagueness of poetry. He often uses commas to string together multiple sentences. His commandeering of punctuation was as mesmerizing as the musings of his characters:
"Myth always has some fact in it. And what is the face here. I don't know, this place exists, for a long time people thoughts it didn't, that's a fact to start with."
Galgut seems to play with the reader too. The narrator jumps between first-person and third-person and offers glimpses of the future. Initially, I couldn't tell if the narrator was the main character. Galgut revealed it by jumping between first and third-person narrative within the same sentence, a trick he used several times. This switching alters the story in its own way as well. The reader and the narrator feel closer to the story at some times than others. Galgut's prose seems simple and straightforward, but he packs a remarkable amount of punch into it. Some statements even extend beyond double entendres: "This seems to mean one thing, but may mean another."
As much as I enjoyed Galgut's use of language and beautiful characterizations of people, the musings of a frequent traveler shined for me the most:
"He watches, but what he sees isn't real to him. Too much travelling and placelessness have put him outside everything, so that history happens elsewhere, it has nothing to do with him. He is only passing through. Maybe horror is felt more easily from home. This is both a redemption and an affliction, he doesn't carry any abstract moral burdens but their absence is represented for him by the succession of flyblown and featureless rooms he sleeps in, night after night, always changing but somehow always the same room."
"Something in him has changed, he can't seem to connect properly with the world. He feels this not as a failure of the world but as a massive failing in himself, he would like to change it but doesn't know how. In his clearest moments he thinks that he has lost the ability to love, people or places or things, most of all the person and place and thing that he is. Without love nothing has value, nothing can be made to matter very much. In this state travel isn't celebration but a kind of mourning, a way of dissipating yourself. He moves around from one place to another, not driven by curiosity but by the bored anguish of staying still."
Traveling and the modern nomadic lifestyle are themes that resonate strongly with me. I'm one who is fascinated by the stories of those anonymous faces who pass by me and wonders if their presence is relevant to my life and vice versa. Galgut has a much more poetic take on those whose paths cross ours: "Or perhaps he wants to see it like this, it's only human, after all, to look for a hint of destiny where love or longing is concerned."
Part of my appreciation of this book was seeing world travel through eyes so different than mine and reading it filtered through a character I don't think I would like to travel with. It was a curious dichotomy. I was fascinated by this actions and ideas, but I had no desire to actually engage in a conversation with this fictional character. Ultimately, I found myself raving intellectually more than emotionally about this book. I loved Galgut's writing, and I liked the story, but there was an emotional connection missing for me. I happen to believe that is Galgut's intent to illustrate the narrator's lack of emotional connection with people and places. Even this idea of intention makes me appreciate the writing more. For me to fully, emotionally engage as a reader, I need a connection. I'm a nomadic traveler who finds connections to people and places everywhere. I wander for joy.
Although it read like a novel to me, I was far more engaged during the first two sections. I was not terribly enchanted with the third section, which has me pondering if the order of these fractured stories matters. The journey of reading a novel is sometimes difficult as one who chronicles her thoughts on books. I find myself writing reviews in my head while I read, but I also often find my mind changing as the book goes on. Ultimately, my disaffection with the third section didn't affect my overall enjoyment of the book as a whole, but it did somewhat underwhelm.
20 internautes sur 20 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
- Publié sur Amazon.com
You will know whether you like this book or not within about 5 pages. I read it because it's on the Man Booker longlist, and I'm glad I persevered, though it is way outside my comfort zone. It's a stripped-down narrative told in first- and third-person (and sometimes even second), often within the same sentence: "he" becomes "I" and can occasionally even be the all-encompassing "you." And this main character is named Damon, like the author.
If you can get past that, it actually pays off. We follow Damon, a South African from Capetown, through 3 widely-spaced journeys -- Greece, Africa, and India -- and get the impression that the time between these journeys is also spent traveling, continuously pulling up stakes, putting things in storage, bunking with friends, etc. You just have to put aside thoughts of how this man manages to make a living (trust fund?), what inspired him to travel in the first place, whether or not he's ever had a romantic relationship, and how he manages to have friends everywhere despite demonstrating real problems making human connections. In fact, this last issue you can't put aside. It's probably the heart of the entire novel, though I notice that other reviewers have focused on other issues.
In the first of the 3 sections, he becomes the traveling companion of a ghastly German named Reiner. There are vague sexual overtones to initiate the relationship, but these quickly give way to Reiner's competitive and controlling nature, which eventually drive the narrator to part company with him on a remote mountain in Africa. In the second section, he teams up with a group of 3 Europeans (one Frenchman and a set of Swiss twins) and again has intimations of a connection with Jerome, one of the twins, which leads him to agonize over visiting them and renewing the connection. And in the third section, he undertakes a foolhardy trip to India with a psychotic friend just out of a mental clinic who has no intention of taking her meds, restricting her intake of alcohol and drugs, or otherwise making life bearable for her traveling companion. Hilarity does NOT ensue.
That's the bare-bones outline. But even though Damon is always traveling, anyone looking for local color or even the sense of the process of crossing borders and living on the road will be disappointed. The heart of the novel lies elsewhere, in the absence of Damon's sense of self. (Ah! A reason for those constantly shifting pronouns!) He knows he can't make the connections he wants to, or that, having made them, he can't follow through or keep the intimacy of the moment for any length of time at all. You wonder if he's traveling to find this ability, or to avoid having to deal with the built-in intimacy of routine. The people he DOES make contact with are either repellent (Reiner), unable to communicate (Jerome, whose English is weak and whose nature is shy), or deeply disturbed in ways that make spending any length of time together almost unbearable (Anna, off her meds). He stymies himself at every turn, and ends up -- where?
This novel is thought-provoking and has, despite its playing around with form and narrative a bit, an air of honesty, as if events couldn't have happened any other way. For these reasons alone, it's refreshing and worth reading.