In a Strange Room

Damon Galgut

First Sentence: It happens like this.

This novel is split into three parts and follows Damon as he travels to various different countries, meeting different people in each one. The narration keeps changing from first person, to second person, to third person; something that would be incredibly confusing in the hands of a lesser writer, but here, Galgut makes it seem effortless. This book is bursting with potential romances; Damon and Reiner in part one, Damon and Jerome in part two, but somehow he never fully engages in one:

The story of Jerome is one he’s lived through before, it is the story of what never happened, the story of travelling a long way while standing still.

This book deals primarily with travel and human relationships, and how travel affects them, in a heartbreaking way. It is full of longing, with several insights into the philosophy of travelling:

A journey is a gesture inscribed in space, it vanishes even as it’s made.

I really enjoyed this book, in particular the final part where Damon travels to Goa with Anna, a good friend who is intent on killing herself. The prose is simple, yet incredibly affecting. A book which may not take a long time to read, but will remain in the back of your mind for a long time afterwards.

* * * *

Last Sentence: He dries his eyes and picks up a tiny stone from the ground, one like millions of others all around, and slips it into his pocket as he walks toward the gate.

Last Sentence explained: While Damon is in Goa, and after Anna has attempted suicide for the first time, he befriends Caroline. When Anna eventually does kill herself, Caroline tells Damon of how her husband was killed in an accident while abroad. At the end of the book Damon is still travelling and he decides to visit this grave which has a profound effect on him:

A huge emotion is welling up in him, unattached to the scene, he doesn’t know either of these people, after all, and they died a long time ago. But it seems unbearably sad that a life should come to rest here, on a sun-blasted hill above a foreign city, with the sea in the distance.

It is this recurring theme of travel/loss, and the fact that “lives leak into each other”, even after a long time or over vast distances, that finally makes Damon shed a tear.

Random quote about Caroline taking photographs:

“…clicking the shutter voraciously, sucking the world into her camera in rectangular pieces…”

Random quote referring to the title of the book:

“In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what you are. And when you are emptied for sleep, you are not. And when you are filled with sleep, you never were.”

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One thought on “In a Strange Room

  1. “A book which may not take a long time to read, but will remain in the back of your mind for a long time afterwards.” Ah, so true.

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