Too often, when someone calls a text ‘Kafkaesque’, they are ignoring, or missing, the fact that Kafka was primarily a comic writer. The Trial is funny. If you can’t see that Josef K is at least as responsible for his predicament as the system that torments him (or that the notion of blame is made almost nonsensical by the dreamlike quality of the metaphor of ‘the trial’ itself) then fine, yes, you might read it as a bleak man-against-the-state nightmare. But it isn’t one. Sorry. The word ‘Kafkaesque’ has become all but useless; a fancy, attention grabbing synonym for ‘bureaucratic’. To be blunt, getting a parking ticket when you visit the council isn’t ‘Kafkaesque’ (unless you are visiting the council, in part, as a metaphor for the complicated nature of your sex life) it is just the result of careless parking.
So, when I say that The Room is a short, smart, fable that is reminiscent of Kafka – that it is Kafkaesque – I don’t mean that ‘it is like being banged up for a crime you didn’t do, innit, AND in a circular jail or something’, I mean it explores the bleak contradictions of existence with a brilliant gallows humour.
You know, just so we’re clear.
Bjӧrn has a new job at the Authority, a department that deals with ‘framework decisions’. We get little description of the Authority except that Departments on floors higher up the building deal with more important decisions and departments lower down deal with less important decisions. Bjӧrn struggles to make his mark at the Authority, an anonymous cog in the machine, another worker ant in an open plan office, until he finds the Room. The Room is a perfect space, and he gets closer to perfection when he is in it. The Room gives Bjӧrn the inspiration he needs to become the efficient, ambitious worker that the Authority looks for. He starts to get better assignments. He starts to be given control over more important decisions.
The Room, of course, doesn’t exist; that much I can reveal without giving away too much of the story. Bjӧrn is getting his best ideas in a non-space. The trick of this short novel is to make us ask whether this matters or not. Bjӧrn is a lovably unreliable narrator, twisting logic to fit his model of perfection. Within the constraints of the Authority, his madness can be accommodated by management, up to a point, as long as it is getting results. The Room becomes a pseudo state, a fictional necessity, a known unknown. The friction is not with his bosses but his colleagues, with those with no access to the Room.
Any Cop?: The Room is a splendid little book. It’s Kafkastic!