The South African novelist Damon Galgut’s Booker Prize-nominated In a Strange Room (2010) is an odd yet absorbing tale of a young man’s search for love and home. It borrows its title from William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (1930) and opens with an epigraph – “He Has No House” – attributed to the Serbian artist Vojislav Jakic (1932-2003).
Bereft of quotation marks and written in deceptively simple prose, the narrative follows an unhappy South African (also called Damon) as he journeys across Greece, Africa and India. Throughout the book, the voice switches between third and first persons and the story gives the impression of being set in a vague no man’s land between memoir and fiction.
Damon is restless and aimless. Any purpose or plan that seems to shape his path is just a result of his brief encounters with fellow travellers and potential partners. Although In a Strange Novel is, ultimately, a bleak novel of thwarted desire and unfulfilled dreams, it can be a totally satisfying and enjoyable read. In praise, the London-based Malaysian novelist Tash Aw has written: “One of the most beautiful and unsettling books I’ve ever read. I can’t remember a more troubling and intense study of rootlessness and loneliness; Galgut is a writer of great, almost frightening, depth.”
He goes to London, but the same restlessness comes over him there, and he goes on somewhere else. And somewhere else again. Five months later he finds himself in a strange country, at the edge of a strange town, with dusk coming down. He is watching people drifting into a funfair on the other side of an overgrown expanse of ground. Circus music carries towards him faintly over the weeds and in the gathering gloom at the base of a high green volcano he sees the lights of a ferris wheel go round and round and round.
He doesn’t know why, but this scene is like a mirror in which he sees himself. Not his face, or his past, but who he is. He feels a melancholy as soft and colourless as wind, and for the first time since he started travelling he thinks that he would like to stop. Stay in one place, never move again.
To learn more about Damon Galgut, click here.
Featured: Funfair by User “Solipsist~commonswiki”, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons