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[774] In a Strange Room – Damon Galgut

1strange

“He’s aware that he’s engaged again in that most squalid of activities, using up time, but the journey hasn’t ended where he wanted it to, it has frayed out instead into endless ambiguities and nuances, like a path that divides and divides endlessly, growing fainter all the time.” (The Lover, p.141-2)

In a Strange Room, flitting between third- and first-person narrative, is a work poised between memoir and fiction. The book is divided into three sections of about the same length and each tells an ill-fated journey undertaken by one Damon, who is presumably the author himself. The three parts are titled “The Follower”, “The Lover”, and “The Guardian”, which refer to how Damon fails the respective role in life. The book is lyrical but grim.

In the first part, Damon is in Greece when he encounters Reiner, a long-haired German who is assured of his beauty. They keep in touch and decide to go on a challenging trek together in Lesotho, a small, inhospitable country situated within the interior of South Africa. But they have a fallout due to Reiner’s bossiness. The homoerotic friendship inevitably disintegrates.

The second journey takes Damon to Zimbabwe where he meets a French and a pair of Swiss twins, who invited him to come along to Tanzania. Despite of the unforeseen complication and a lack of visa, Damon accepts the offer because he is smitten with Jerome, who has “a beauty that is almost shocking.” Yet Damon, only to his deep regret later, flees this relationship as eagerly as he runs into it. By the time the third section begins, reader gets the sense that he is a hopeless case in relationship.

The third section sees Damon as a middle-aged man who is still dissatisfied by his inability to engage meaningfully with others. The alienated traveler goes on wandering not because he is curious about new places but that he has to keep himself going to avoid meddling in his problems. The trip to take his suicidal friend along to India is a wrong decision from the beginning. She has an overdose in India. This wrenching journey repeats his previous experience, only with greater shock and emphasis of his impotence. There is a sense of timelessness in these isolated journeys, and the lone traveler is far from his time and history—pretty much out of touch from reality. He is far more adept at crossing geographical boundaries than emotional ones. The book is written in a way that reader is encourage to interact with Damon’s thoughts. Sometimes it’s engaging but it can be frustrating.

207 pp. Europa Editions. Trade Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]

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