- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Emblem Editions (Aug. 2 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0771035977
- ISBN-13: 978-0771035975
- Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 1.2 x 20.2 cm
- Shipping Weight: 181 g
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,578,706 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
In a Strange Room: Three Journeys Paperback – Aug 2 2011
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"Extraordinarily readable. . . . A very beautiful book for one thing, strikingly conceived and hauntingly written, a writer's novel par excellence. . . ."
— The Guardian
"A powerful three-part meditation on the relationship between travel, love and an off-kilter self."
— Financial Times
"It is the honesty that consolidates this thoughtful, intelligent, cohesively human book. Galgut, ever the wanderer, always the seeker, is here at his most deliberate, as intent on finding meaning as on asking questions."
— Irish Times
"Galgut has the talent to grow into one of South Africa's great literary voices."
— The Economist
"Galgut is a worthy heir to Gordimer and Coetzee."
— The Observer
"Like Ian McEwan, [Galgut] is a master of menace."
— Vancouver Sun
"A master of psychological tension."
— Globe and Mail
About the Author
DAMON GALGUT is an award-winning novelist and short story writer. His most recent novels include The Impostor, a regional finalist for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book, and The Good Doctor, winner of a regional Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book and a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Galgut lives in Cape Town, South Africa.See all Product description
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But is he really only "passing through"? Galgut's central character, also named Damon, travels widely and extensively: First, we meet him in Greece, then back home in South Africa, from where he embarks on a demanding hiking tour in Lesotho with an enigmatic German he met in Greece. Later his planned short visit to Zimbabwe morphs into a lengthy meandering journey through several East African countries all the way to Kenya. He meets, among others, an intriguing to him, group of three Europeans, and attaches himself to them and they encourage him along, especially one of them... In yet another journey a few years later, he spends several months in India, caught up in a drama that reveals another facet of his character.
From the early pages I was intrigued, initially by the way Galgut writes about landscapes, depicting people...(I have travelled to some of the places) However, it dawned on me very quickly that Damon is nothing like your usual young adventurer who loves discovering new places for their own sake... Instead he is on an ongoing journey, searching for something more profound. What? Companionship, friendship, love, home? Maybe all of these in some way. He is not an easygoing traveller but often rather torn between anxiety and excitement. For him travel is "away" from somewhere not towards a place. "In memory more than anywhere else travelling is like free-fall, or flight."
It is interesting to note as an aside that while the novel is composed of three distinct sections: FOLLOWER, LOVER, GUIDE (they were originally published in a series) the parts are not only linked through Damon's voice and his travel accounts over time. The author applies a highly original technique to bring his protagonist closer to the reader and also closer to himself. He introduces a second, first person voice: Damon looking back on himself with the wisdom of time. The switch between third and first person voice is so subtle and gracefully done that it feels naturally after a short while. It enhanced my own appreciation of the persona that is Damon. Primarily, it allows an intimate recounting of certain experiences, even a dialog between the two: "he murmurs sardonically into his ear, you see where you have landed yourself".
Memory and how it affects Damon becomes both a theme and a tool in the novel. "But memory has its own distances, in part he is me entirely, in part he is a stranger I am watching." Later, In fact, after finishing the novel, I revisited selected passages for further reflection and these brought me to another, deeper, even more profound layer in the story that works its way quietly through the novel and connects scenarios that initially look unconnected. Galgut's novel is at that level a meditation not only on travel, the strange loneliness of the traveller, but about his emotional identity. " Lives leak into each other, the past lays claim to the present." With each travel his relationships to his companion(s) change and their presence leads to him changing also in some way or other. The reader becomes an intimate observer Damon's anxieties and the depth of his conflicting emotions, despite his frequent reluctance or inability to find the right words in which to express himself.
All this has compounded my great appreciation of Galgut's refined exquisite writing. His language is precise and assured, his evocation of the diverse landscapes and its peoples visual and visceral. His understanding of Damon is deep and profoundly explored. While we can follow him as he discovers new places and landscapes, it is evident that his moving from place to place is not his primary motivation but a result of a deeply felt inner unrest.
The book's title "In a strange room..." is taken from a William Faulkner quote. "In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep, you are not. And when you are filled with sleep, you never were..." For the traveller who changes rooms and beds every night, they feel like "always changing but somehow always the same room". [Friederike Knabe]
The book takes its title from the William Faulkner quotation "in a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep" and if there is a theme that connects the three stories it is the discomfort that quote speaks to, for the book is a disquisition on uneasiness. Whether it is the hint of unexpressed homosexual desire, the awkwardness involved in being in a group that one has no connection or history with or of facing a traumatic situation in a country that is not just foreign to you but whose social norms are so wildly different from those of the country you call your home. First published as three short stories in the magazine Paris Review you could be forgiven for worrying that the book would be disconnected but that is really not a problem as the themes that connect the stories are so strong. The character Damon doesn't just find himself in uncomfortable situations, he is a character who is ill at ease with the world forcing him to move from place to place.
It is a short novel coming in at only 180 pages and Galgut plays a bit fast and loose with his punctuation but this has been one of the best books I've read in a long while. It stands, in my opinion, easily heads and shoulders above the other Booker shortlist novels I've read so far. I'm not sure how to rate its chances for success because whilst this type of novel is particularly suited to my tastes, I'm not sure how widely popular it would be. All I can say is that I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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