STARRED REVIEW
September 2020

A Room Called Earth

By Madeleine Ryan
Review by
A Room Called Earth, written by a neurologically diverse author, culminates in unexpected intimacy, not only between the narrator and her new friend but also between the reader and an extraordinary mind.
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In Madeleine Ryan’s debut novel, A Room Called Earth, the young autistic narrator relishes getting ready for a house party in Melbourne, Australia. She attends to a series of preparation rituals: picking out her outfit, dabbing the backs of her ears with her grandmother’s perfume, making a vegan sandwich, dancing in front of the living room mirror, collecting martini ingredients and having the taxi drop her a block from the party so she can enjoy the approach. Her high heels hurt soon after she arrives. She endures hearing about an acquaintance’s latest crush. She is about to leave when she meets a man in line for the bathroom, and they enjoy a refreshing conversation.

In the vein of Virginia Woolf, the narrator’s incisive commentary pierces through descriptions of quotidian affairs. “We can’t go without experiencing ourselves for a millisecond,” she says, and she never fights her subjective perspective. She inquires into what people really mean by what they say, pokes through the rooms of the party house and analyzes every encounter she witnesses.

The freedom to experience the narrator’s inner world makes room for objective reality. Melbourne’s neighborhoods come alive. Mud and stars, butterflies and books inhabit the narrator’s consciousness like companions. There’s a sacredness surrounding the individuals she meets and with whom she speaks, shown by the treatment of dialogue on the page. Short exchanges are set apart from the rest of the text with double spaces, while long speeches are crammed into single-space blocks, a visual expression of how people can crowd and overwhelm the narrator. But with the man she meets in the bathroom line, the anxiousness and intensity of the party give way to the pleasure of shared company.

A Room Called Earth, written by a neurologically diverse author, culminates in unexpected intimacy, not only between the narrator and her new friend but also between the reader and an extraordinary mind.

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A Room Called Earth

A Room Called Earth

By Madeleine Ryan
Penguin
ISBN 9780143135456

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