Alan's Reviews > In a Strange Room

In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut
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's review
Aug 10, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: novels, read-in-2010

Germaine Greer on a review programme that was looking at the Booker short listed novels complained that in this book there is little about the countries visited, even though it is a kind of travel book, more about the state of the mind of its main protagonist, a figure that slips from third person to first, sometimes in the course of a sentence, and is called 'Damon'. What struck her is its solipsism. She has a point. Often it is the gaps between destinations, the ennui of this type of travel (A large part of travelling consists purely in waiting...departure halls of airports, bus stations, lonely kerbsides in the heat) that comes over rather more strongly than the sights and sounds of the countries visited. 'Damon' is a loner always just missing in relationships, gay but not sure or strong about it, and, yes, self absorbed, but trying not to be: 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 travels because he is bored by the anguish of staying still.

So don't expect a lot of laughs. However I think Greer is wrong, you do get a 'flavour' of the places he visits, the long lakes of Malawi, the mountains of rural Lesotho, the beaches and plumbing of Goa, the customs offices and trains, the heat everywhere and the dust, or alternatively the primeval lightening.

Beautifully written all the way through, with overtones of Beckett - the following is dialogue (none of your boring punctuation though):

In one of your letters.
You said you were looking forward to seeing me again.
What did you mean by that.
...I don't know what I meant.
You don't know what you meant.
I was looking forward to seeing you.
Nothing else.
Not that I can think of.

The first two parts are more comtemplative, at arm's length (still absorbing), often just about walking:
They walk and walk, all the motion latent in the vast curves of the earth somehow contracted into the dynamics of this movement, one leg swinging past the other, each foot planted and uprooted in turn, the whole surface of the world has been trodden down just like this over time. But the third part maybe involves the reader more because 'Damon' is a guardian to a mentally unstable woman who attempts suicide and a lot of the plot is caught up in his attempts to save her life, the messy bloody shitty details of her treatment and stay in the Indian hospital and the relationships he is forced to forge with others to keep her alive and himself sane.

Altogether a satisfying book, even if this bloke is definitely a 'half empty' sort:
In fact he doesn't sleep much, the boat is lurching and the deck is hard and uncomfortable. Dangling above them is a huge metal hook on a crane and all his latent uneasiness becomes focused on this hook, what if it falls, he keeps waking from jagged dreams to see that dark shape punched out on the sky. The night is starry and huge, depsite this one concentration of dread at the very centre of it, above him.
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Reading Progress

August 10, 2010 – Shelved
August 10, 2010 – Shelved as: novels
September 29, 2010 – Started Reading
October 12, 2010 – Finished Reading
December 7, 2010 – Shelved as: read-in-2010

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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notgettingenough Germaine Greer must be completely insane to think this isn't about the countries. It is wonderfully about them without any of the tedium of a travel book or the pretence that it is true.

Alan notgettingenough wrote: "Germaine Greer must be completely insane to think this isn't about the countries. It is wonderfully about them without any of the tedium of a travel book or the pretence that it is true."

Hi Not! Hope you're well. Yes Greer must have been reading another book altogether I think..

notgettingenough Well enough, Alan. A beautiful day in Geneva, preceded by other beautiful days. Last year we had no spring, so if we get extra spring this year I shall be a very excited little black duck.

Alan you mean sunshine? Here it's just been raining for a month and a half, (40 days!) as you've probably seen on the news. Luckily Birmingham doesn't flood, at least not the bit I'm in..

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