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Nordic Samuel Beckett meets Kafka meets Gervais: Modern office parable The Room

The perfect escape for desk-based drones

Page File Anyone who’s ever toiled under the glaring fluorescence of the dreary modern office will enjoy the slow descent of Björn from meticulous “man of the future” to nutty “monster”, courtesy of an unassuming ergonomically designed private office in his building.

Told entirely from Björn’s point of view, Jonas Karlsson’s The Room has been compared with Franz Kafka’s The Trial in almost everything you read about it, and with good reason: the sparse style and lack of biographical detail in this modern parable, translated from the native Swedish for the first time, is hugely reminiscent of writers such as Kafka and Samuel Beckett.

We meet Björn on the first day of his new job at the Authority, where he’s been transferred in a rather ambiguous set of circumstances that are either down to his amazing administrative prowess or his insufferable superiority.

It wasn’t really my decision to move on. I was fairly happy at my last job and felt comfortable with the routines, but somehow I outgrew the position and ended up feeling that I was doing a job that was way below my abilities, and I have to admit that I didn’t always see eye to eye with my colleagues.

Eventually my former boss came and put his arm round my shoulders and told me it was time to look for a better solution.

Determined to make as good an impression at his new position as he did at his last job, Björn continues with his programme of self-improvement and dedication that he’s sure will see him rise to the top.

I worked out a personal strategic framework. I arrived half an hour early each morning and followed my own timetable for the day: fifty-five minutes of concentrated work, then a five minute break. Including toilet breaks. I avoided any unnecessary socialising along the way.

Sadly, this winning strategy of hard work doesn’t seem to be having the desired effect, as his boss only wants to talk to him about his lack of a change of shoes for indoor use and his colleagues give up on attempting to interact with him. By the time Björn reckons that a little bit of networking might not be too bad an idea, it’s too little, too late.

Do you really need me to tell you who this is?

I carried on to her desk and adopted a relaxed posture with my weight on one leg, so that she could be left in no doubt that I was amenable to having a conversation. She looked up at me and asked if I wanted help with something. ‘No,’ I said. She went on working. I stood there for a while, looking at the badly drawn child’s picture of a sunset, and wondered if she was aware of its flagrant inaccuracy.

In this and other equally awkward moments, the odious Björn continuously fails to live up to his own standards of a modern, go-getting man on his way up the ladder. Until one day, on his way to the toilets for one of his prescribed breaks, he sees the door to a room. Inside is a haven from the open-plan horror outside, a tidy, well-designed, private office space that seems to call to him - even after he discovers that no-one else in the office can see it.

Like Office Space the movie or The Office on TV, The Room teems with wonderfully observed ridiculous moments in the life of a white-collar worker, forced into close quarters with random strangers and obliged to hand out unearned respect at every turn. Björn’s picture of himself and the slowly emerging image of the Björn that everyone else sees are painfully funny examples of how a whole-hearted commitment to any paper-pushing company appears more and more ridiculous when held up to any scrutiny.

Karlsson’s short tale doesn’t pull any punches on the bleaker sides of the single office-drone’s life either, its small-mindedness, loneliness and despondency all hit Björn at one time or another.

Like any good parable, The Room is short and easy to read, but what it all really means will take a bit more pondering. And even if you don’t want to look too deeply into it, this funny, moving story will happily while away a Sunday afternoon in front of the fire. ®

The Room by Jonas KarlssonAuthor Jonas Karlsson
Title The Room
Publisher Hogarth / Random House
Price £9.99 (Hardback) / £6.99 (ebook)
Publication Date 15 January (UK) / 17 February (US)
More info Publication web site

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