3.5 stars

THE PLOT: A Room Called Earth by Madeleine Ryan is about a young woman on the autism spectrum. Set in Melbourne, Australia, the whole novel takes places in one night as the (unnamed) main character goes to a party. From ritualistic preparation to arriving at the event, and feeling both isolated and absorbed in the proceedings, the novel ends as the next day dawns. Yet, from this one night we get an intense character portrait, as well as witty observations on social gatherings. And when a chance encounter with another partygoer develops into something more, we’re left wondering about human nature and the connections we create.

RATING: I’ve wrestled with my soul on this and I’m giving it three and a half stars. Are there five-star-worthy brilliant passages? Abso-fucking-lutely. Did I get bored at points? See previous answer. This debut novel from a neurodivergent author is unique and truly special. The main character grabs you as you’re pushed into her thoughts, and the sensitive, magical way she sees the world. However, it dragged in places and while I wouldn’t want to take away from the author’s intention or try and make this novel fit a generic storytelling format, I didn’t get the ‘entertainment-factor’, which I look for when reading.

GOOD BITS: This book is so intelligent and witty. I love how gripping the main character is and there are so many acute observations which really struck a chord with me. In particular, the passages about rape culture and people’s inability to just feel their feelings were so perceptive. I loved how the MC wants to be who she is, yet there were still moments of trying to connect with people through social conventions. I found it a realistic portrayal of a rich white girl in her early twenties, but with a layer of refreshing honesty to say what we’re all really thinking underneath. Plus, both the internal monologues and the dialogue are skillfully written.

NOT SO GOOD BITS: If this book was a short story, I would have loved it. However, there simply wasn’t enough plot to sustain a full novel. Around a third of the way through, I honestly couldn’t understand how there was more to go. Luckily, the introduction of a second character at the midpoint and some strategically placed reminiscences on the main character’s parents kept me going. But, as much as I want to give this novel a better review, not enough happened in the book.

OVERALL: This book has been compared to ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’, and I can see why the main characters might be grouped. However, the main thrust of the story and, seemingly, the objectives of the authors are totally different. In fact, I can’t really give a comparison title for this book. All I can say is to give it a try. Ok, maybe if you love fast-paced thrillers or detailed sci-fi world-building, this won’t be for you. But, if you’re a fan of literary character studies and contemporary “millennial” essays (think ‘How Do We Know We’re Doing It Right?’ by Pandora Sykes), this is definitely a book to expand your mindset and make you think about life, the universe and everything.

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