New year, same old office politics – a world in which missed tea runs, excessive time on Facebook or cigarette breaks somehow take on as much significance as, well, any actual work that might incidentally take place. The utter banality of office life has been skewered perfectly by the likes of Joshua Ferris and Ricky Gervais in recent years, but Swedish author and actor Karlsson takes the workplace novel into decidedly more surreal territory.
The set-up is intriguing: his protagonist, Björn, has begun work at a new, faintly Orwellian company called The Authority. Björn is not in the least bit interested in making friends – immediately, there’s something odd about him – and great credit to translator Neil Smith for finding such a disconnected, flat, almost robotic tone. However, he finds a secret room on his way to the toilets and once inside feels a sense of both great power and peace. There, he can write sparkling reports that have his bosses beaming with pleasure.
Sadly, it’s also at this point that The Room loses its way slightly. The ending is muddled and some terrible cod philosophy about the human condition starts to creep in (“we want to earn a lot, eat well and generally have a nice time… in these terms we are relatively simple creatures”). Still, The Room’s brevity is a virtue – it should certainly fill a lunch-break or two.