In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut
A young man takes three journeys, through Greece, India and Africa. He travels lightly, simply. To those who travel with him and those whom he meets on the way - including a handsome, enigmatic stranger, a group of careless backpackers and a woman on the edge - he is the Follower, the Lover and the Guardian. Yet, despite the man's best intentions, each journey ends in disaster. Together, these three journeys will change his whole life. A novel of longing and thwarted desire, rage and compassion, "In a Strange Room" is the hauntingly beautiful evocation of one man's search for love, and a place to call home.
I got around a third of the way through this and gave up. As I’m unable to give a review of the book overall, I will detail some of the reasons I felt I couldn’t continue. Leaving a book unfinished is a very rare occurrence for me.
The book is structured into three sections, each of which focuses on a different area our narrator travels to, the people he meets, and the things he encounters. It felt a bit like a melancholy and overly-lyrical travelogue to begin with, and yet there is a complete lack of attention to the narrator’s surroundings. The first section (for me, the only section), looked at Greece and Africa; both felt flat and boring, which I am sure they are absolutely not. No real descriptions of setting, custom, or the locals, just an entire inward focus on the narrator’s emotional angst.
Everything felt incredibly disconnected and disengaging. Even the narrator’s feelings for the man he meets on his travels – a whole lot ranging from love to rage – were just off kilter enough to evoke apathy in me. The narrative switched from first to third person sporadically, without any real impact or mastery.
To me, I was reading something that was written to be poignant, abstract, and deliciously difficult to interpret. And sadly, it wasn’t. There was nothing here for me.