If you’ve ever worked in a corporate office, you’ve likely heard the phrase, “Perception is reality.” To Björn, the office worker who narrates Jonas Karlsson’s novel The Room, the reality is simple: there’s a door near the bathroom that leads to a tidy little room with a desk. Inside this room, he feels a profound sense of peace. The problem is that Björn is the only one in the office who can see the room.

Björn is a new employee at “the Authority” at the start of the novel. He describes himself as ambitious and smart, but within a matter of pages, it becomes clear that he’s unreliable. He reprimands a co-worker for allowing the files on his desk to spill onto Björn’s, an obvious overreaction. We begin to realize that the whole office is concerned about Björn’s strange behavior when the manager, Karl, sends an email to the entire staff that says: “We will be putting staffing issues under a microscope.”

What follows Karl’s email is the revelation that Björn sees a room nobody else can, and that, while Björn thinks he is inside the room, he is actually staring at the wall. Karl and the staff confront him about this behavior, but Björn, so convinced of his own reality, insists that everyone else is delusional or conspiring against him.

Karl asks Björn to get professional mental-health counseling. Björn does, but it doesn’t help. Then Björn discovers that being in the room allows him to do advanced-level work, he uses the subsequent boost in productivity as leverage. The tables turn; Björn is now able to force the rest of the office to accept that a room that does not exist, does. The door becomes a metaphor for the ridiculous lows to which office culture can stoop.

As a narrator, Björn comes across as an arrogant know-it-all, but what prevents him from becoming insufferable is his isolation. When he’s at home alone, he paints a sad picture: “I put on a CD of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, but soon swapped it for one of Sting’s albums, only to switch to Dire Straits and then John Cougar Mellencamp. I didn’t really feel like listening to any of them, but liked the idea of associating with the very best.”

Who is he trying to impress? Here Björn is trying to convince himself he’s closer to his idea of an admirable person, but he knows he’s falling short. He hurts, but the pain is buried. So when he says, “Inhibited people don’t see the world the way it really is. They only see what they themselves want to see,” we realize better than he does that he’s speaking about himself.

The Room is more than the story of an office nutcase. It’s a hilarious portrait of corporate culture, which allows strong personalities to force rational people to accept (or at least tolerate) irrational ideas.


Comments are disabled for this article.

....

The Room
By Jonas Karlsson
Translated by Neil Smith
Reviewed by Peter Biello
186 pages, paperback
ISBN: 978-0-8041-3998-4
$14.00
I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World
I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World by Kim Kyung Ju
Reviewed by Jacob Rogers

Kim Kyung Ju’s I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World, translated from the Korean by Jake Levine, is a wonderful absurdist poetry collection. It’s a mix of verse and prose poems, or even poems in the. . .

Read More >

Kingdom Cons
Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera
Reviewed by Sarah Booker

Yuri Herrera is overwhelming in the way that he sucks readers into his worlds, transporting them to a borderland that is at once mythical in its construction and powerfully recognizable as a reflection of its modern-day counterpart. Kingdom Cons, originally. . .

Read More >

The Invented Part
The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Imagine reading a work that suddenly and very accurately calls out you, the reader, for not providing your full attention to the act of reading. Imagine how embarrassing it is when you, the reader, believe that you are engrossed in. . .

Read More >

A Simple Story: The Last Malambo
A Simple Story: The Last Malambo by Leila Guerriero
Reviewed by Emilee Brecht

Leila Guerriero’s A Simple Story: The Last Malambo chronicles the unique ferocity of a national dance competition in Argentina. The dance, called the malambo, pushes the physical and mental limits of male competitors striving to become champions of not only. . .

Read More >

The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof
The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof by Cesar Aira
Reviewed by Will Eells

Aira continues to surprise and delight in his latest release from New Directions, which collects two novellas: the first, The Little Buddhist Monk, a fairly recent work from 2005, and The Proof, an earlier work from 1989. There are a. . .

Read More >

Agnes
Agnes by Peter Stamm
Reviewed by Dorian Stuber

The narrator of Peter Stamm’s first novel, Agnes, originally published in 1998 and now available in the U.S. in an able translation by Michael Hofmann, is a young Swiss writer who has come to Chicago to research a book on. . .

Read More >

Class
Class by Francesco Pacifico
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

The thing about Class is that I don’t know what the hell to think about it, yet I can’t stop thinking about it. I’ll begin by dispensing with the usual info that one may want to know when considering adding. . .

Read More >