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The Portland Mercury: "Prose that's memorable, surprising, and beautiful."

Date: Dec 2 2010

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by Alison Hallett

DAMON GALGUT'S BOOKER-NOMINATED In a Strange Room takes its title from As I Lay Dying: "In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you...," Faulkner wrote.

Galgut's protagonist (also named Damon) reads the passage as he's sitting by a river in Lesotho, on one of the three journeys that give In a Strange Room its shape. It's in travel that Damon is both emptied and filled; the people he encounters along the way highlight his own existential uncertainty.

Little is revealed about Damon. We learn he is a white South African, a writer, probably gay, but the biographical detail of primary importance is his compulsive roaming toward a destination uncertain even to himself. The narration shifts, transition-less, from first to third person—Damon is at once himself and a character in a half-remembered story, as truthful a representation of memory as I've ever read.

The dreamy sameness of Damon's travels is punctuated by portentous encounters and lyrical, striking imagery. As he and his friends pass through a Tanzanian town, "the complicated shop fronts with their myriad steps and tiny windows put him in mind of the innards of some enormous animal, through which they're creeping like a germ." It's phrases like this one that ground Damon's perambulations in something more than existential despair—in prose that's memorable, surprising, and beautiful.

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