Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Book Review: In a Strange Room

Among other books this past weekend, I read In a Strange Room, by Damon Galgut.
As someone who enjoys traveling, and who also enjoys the idea of traveling, I found Galgut's work to be both brutally honest, and deeply disturbing.

Galgut's South African narrator (who may or may not be Galgut himself) recalls three different episodes of travel in his life, taking him through Europe, India and Africa. But while he is able to negotiate his way across countries' borders, he finds himself unable to engage meaningfully with others.

Parts of his travels unfold like psychological thrillers, a la Ian McEwan. However, where McEwan's writing is unfailingly beautiful, Galgut's is bleak. In tone, the writing reminded me of Camus's The Stranger, which also explores the theme of alienation. However, Damon's failure to connect with others is perhaps even more disquieting because he has tried (and failed) repeatedly.

I found this book impossible to put down, even though I can hardly say I enjoyed the experience of reading it.


  1. I'm curious, is he explicit about his inability to connect with others, or does he simply narrate this failure without explanation? I'm just wondering if he theorizes about the disconnect at all and comes to any conclusions about it.

    Just cause i'm full of quotes today, your review made me think of the opening to Céline's "Journey to the End of the Night":
    "Travel is useful, it exercises the imagination. All the rest is disappointment and fatigue. Our journey is entirely imaginary. That is its strength."

  2. interesting review. the book sounds interesting, but also a bit like you fell in love with your kidnappers.

    when i did tour de camus, i must say i was much more impressed by his stories and the (un?)emotional tides of his books than the writing. similar to you, i felt it to be bleak... but the stories too were bleak. i chalked it up to the translation... and while i can say i enjoyed those books, i rarely talk of them or think of them (in keeping with the existential themes of them, they simply "are" in my mind, part of the journey).

    i like travel novels.. have a bit of a bad taste in my mouth after really buying into theroux after reading a couple of his better books, only to be sorely disappointed in some of his more recent works.

    i'll tentatively put this one on the list... we'll see if it get to it during a time when i have something else in my arms i will find impossible to put down.

  3. I like Theroux's non-fiction, but not his fiction. I think most readers feel the same way.

    His writing definitely subscribes to the notion of the romance of travel, even if he is a curmudgeon. Not so in the Galgut book.