It’s a glad thing when a reader encounters a character so compelling that you want to punch him in the nose. Such abhorrence—it’s not really hatred—can be as pleasurable in its own way as love. Such is the aggravation caused by Jonas Karlsson’s weird, insufferably arrogant, not quite neuro-normal protagonist in the crisp, novella-length book The Room.
The story takes place in Sweden. The protagonist’s name is Björn. After being quietly fired from one job where he was also intolerable, he takes a job in the open-plan office of some sort of Authority. There, he takes his superiority over everyone for granted. He’s a bully and a misogynist, and we ache for someone to tell him off, if not punch him out. But this is Scandinavia, so there’s none of that. (One wonders what would have happened to Björn if he’d been an office drone in New York. For one thing, there would be no book because something unfortunate and needful would have happened to him by page five.)
Then, Björn discovers a room in a place where no room can be. It’s a plain office with filing cabinets, a desk and such, but only he can see its door and only he can go through it. The reader thinks, “Lovely, he’s not only a toe rag but he’s delusional as well.” But Karlsson’s adroitness as a writer is such that we begin to doubt. Björn experiences this ordinary room in such detail that we begin to wonder whether he might really be telling the truth—after all, Björn’s a piece of misery, but is he crazy? Besides, his timeouts in that room help him excel so much at his job that he comes to believe, sort of rightly, that he can’t be fired.
The Room, a modern, Bartleby-like examination of the tyranny of radical individualism, does mess with one's head, but in a most pleasurable way.