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07 April 2015

The Room, by Jonas Karlsson [a book review]

This is the best depiction of mental illness in fiction that I have read. Ever. Yet. Et cetera.

And yet, I've had a hard time beginning this review. I read the book two weeks ago and have stared at this mostly blank post every day for at least a few minutes.

I'm just not sure how to express the emotions stirred by this book.

Tell you what, I'll just start here: the description on the Blogging for Books website says -

Bjorn is a compulsive, meticulous bureaucrat who discovers a secret room at the government office where he works--a secret room that no one else in his office will acknowledge. When Bjorn is in his room, what his co-workers see is him standing by the wall and staring off into space looking dazed, relaxed, and decidedly creepy. Bjorn's bizarre behavior eventually leads his co-workers to try and have him fired, but Bjorn will turn the tables on them with help from his secret room.
      Debut author Jonas Karlsson doesn't leave a word out of place in this brilliant, bizarre, delightful take on how far we will go--in a world ruled by conformity--to live an individual and examined life. 

I believe that's the publisher's blurb.

Over on, the reviews seem to divide into those who got that Bjorn was mentally ill, and those who didn't. At least one (that I read) pinpointed Bjorn's mental illnesses as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and a form of Autism. Neither of those is something I know enough about to validate - or invalidate - that diagnosis, but it seems apt from what I do know. (Feel free to enlighten me if you are better versed in these.)

Those reviewers who didn't get that Bjorn had some sort of mental illness were either entertained by the potential magic of the story (Bjorn is, without a doubt delusional), or were irritated with the inconclusiveness of his characterization - that is, they thought he was just a jerk.

Except, in his own mind, Bjorn is perfectly reasonable. Polite. Nice even, though only as kind as might be appropriate for his aims.

Okay, seriously, I'm going to stop myself right here. See, the thing is, this character just straight up fascinates me. This depiction of mental illness from the inside - this flawless depiction - fascinates me. I could talk about the content of the story for... well, pages. But this isn't a book report. It's a review. So instead of going on about the intricacies of Bjorn's character development, I'll just tell you this: if you have any interest in mental illness - if you are curious about how delusion sounds on the inside - you should read this book.

It's a quick, fast-moving, somewhat surreal, infinitely fascinating look at the inner workings of a delusional mind. Just go for it. If you don't like it - this book isn't for everyone, for sure - you won't have lost much time because it's only 125 pages, and they're not even all full.

Bonus: the book includes study questions at the end. If you're into that sort of thing.

~~~ sent me a review copy, in exchange for the review. It's a cool site if you're into getting free books and don't mind giving them a few words back in exchange. Check it out.

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