Think on ink – ‘The Room’
Caelin Miltko | Friday, March 27, 2015
Titling something “The Room” is, at this point, a dead giveaway that whatever medium the creative work is using, it is going to be playing with our psychological responses and our perceptions of reality. The very title creates some kind of captured tension, where the reader must instantly start to question everything about this “room,” and try to analyze what about it makes it important enough to give it such prominent space.
Jonas Karlsson’s recently published and translated “The Room” explores the concept of reality (and personal reality and delusions) through the (probable) ravings of a desk worker. At the beginning, nothing appears to be wrong with protagonist Bjorn, but as he tells us more about his work at the office and his coworkers’ reactions to him, it quickly becomes clear he is not as authoritative as he would have us believe.
Karlsson’s story does interesting work with the concept of the unreliable narrator. Other than the clearly ominous title, the work begins with a seemingly trustworthy narrator. He’s starting a new job, and he clearly works very hard. He seems somewhat intelligent. There seems to be no real reason to question the existence of the room he tells us about on the very first page.
Bjorn’s actions within the room are always fuzzy, and when he brings others into the room, he never explains exactly what happens there. For the reader, this means that the only thing that is available is Bjorn’s explanations after the fact, which make it somewhat confusing when his coworkers and boss start talking about “staffing issues.” Despite Bjorn’s complaints about his coworkers, it’s fairly clear that he has not taken the time to relate anything serious enough to require intervention.
After the “staffing issues” remark, the inconsistencies in narrative start to pick up. If possible, it becomes even less clear what Bjorn does exactly and he works for the ominously named “Authority” (all I can really think is “Big Brother,” but this never really fleshes itself out). His coworkers clearly find him strange and at some point, he’s even asked if he’s on drugs. Despite his language, it’s very clear that his perception of reality is not the same as everyone around him.
At the heart of all Bjorn’s delusions is the mysterious empty office between the elevator and the bathroom. For him, it provides an important space to think and relax from the stressors of his job. For everyone else, it’s not clear that it exists.
Perhaps the most interesting part about Karlsson’s creation is the relationship between Bjorn’s productivity and the room. There is something about this space that allows Bjorn to tap into some intellectual power that helps him become one of the very best workers at his firm. He uses this space to unwind and to consider problems. For some reason, it allows him to unlock problems that have puzzled his coworkers for weeks. Karlsson appears to be making some kind of link between madness and genius, though Bjorn’s final predicament casts serious doubt over whether this is worth it.
While many pieces of the novel are perhaps not meant to be realistic, personally I could never figure out why his firm didn’t fire him after he broke their rules again and again. It’s the only piece of story that is just unrealistic enough to distract from the overall theme of the story.
As an unreliable narrator, Bjorn clearly wants the reader to think highly of him. He consistently reassures the reader that he is very good at his job, and he clearly believes himself the intellectual superior of everyone he works with. While the fact that he still has a job implies that this isn’t a complete lie, almost everything else leads the reader to question just how well Bjorn knows himself.
In the end, Bjorn’s genius fails to compensate for his strange eccentricities that border on complete madness. Still, for him, the room remains a very real thing, and it become his only retreat when everyone he knows attempts to make him come to terms with reality.