by Jonas Karlsson
Bjorn is a compulsive, exacting bureaucrat who discovers a secret room at the government office where he works–a secret room that no one else in his office will acknowledge. When Bjorn is in his room, what his coworkers see is him standing by the wall and staring off into space looking dazed, relaxed, and decidedly creepy. Bjorn’s bizarre behaviour eventually leads his coworkers to try to have him fired, but Bjorn will turn the tables on them with help from his secret room. Author Jonas Karlsson doesn’t leave a word out of place in this brilliant, bizarre, delightful take on how far we will go–in a world ruled by conformity–to live an individual and examined life.
Length: 191 pages
Published: February 5, 2014
A quick read with Spartan language that lends itself well to the main character, Bjorn, and the execution of his story. I began the book with an open mind, somewhat unsuspecting. Only to quickly discover Bjorn’s unlikeability: arrogant, socially awkward, and a certain weirdness he does not excel at. Still, I found myself sympathizing for him, and rooting for him when singled out and bullied by his colleagues for his oddness and anti-social qualities. It’s this kind of dissonance in the writing style and story which I quite enjoy in a book. It’s a kind of propulsion – pushing me further forward until I’ve turned the last page of the book.
Add to this Bjorn’s unreliability as a narrator, and the questions piled up inside my mind. Questions I hoped the book would answer, questions which it did not, to my amusement. So, what about the room? Who do I believe, as reader – the unreliable narrator or everyone else? I wanted to believe the narrator, I felt as though I must, since in reading the book I happened to be inside his mind, behind his eyes, seeing what he sees, perceiving what he perceives.
This book wants its readers to think – about perception, reality, truth, mental illness, otherness, office politics, gossip as a form of aggression, and bullying as it extends far beyond the reach of the school yard and into adult life. What is real? What is true? When we throw mental illness into the mix, the answers do not seem so clear. If a flaw leads someone to perceive a situation in a way that others do not, that perception definitely still seems real to him. And that becomes his truth.
Let’s consider the notion of mental illness. Just the term alone seems laden with negative connotations. Historically, illness referred to bad moral quality. And disease referred to a sort of lacking. I feel inclined to believe that the term mental illness still carries those connotations and innately blames the individual designated ill for their perceptual differences.
The whole phenomenon of otherness comes from the fact that we have expectations of how those around us will behave. Those who deviate from the majority suffer for it. It’s a strange thing, they way humans want to stand out and blend in simultaneously. There are unwritten rules, it seems. It’s okay to be different as long as you’re good at it. Apparently, Bjorn did not meet the criteria – he was not good at being different. I can’t help but think some hidden processes are at work here in this interaction between Bjorn, The Authority and the rest of those in its employ: you know, the conspiratorial kind.
I enjoyed this book so much, would even read it again. That’s something I rarely do. You’ll find it entertaining if you like a good riddle – you know, the type of book that doesn’t tie its loose ends up neatly, that doesn’t answer all your questions, that poses questions of its own and leaves you to think about them. You’ll like this book if you can live without backstory, which in this case would impede the book’s flow. You’ll like this book if you like narratives that exist in the now and find the notion of an unreliable narrator amusing and beguiling, even.