This is not a book for everyone. It is a bit disjointed because it depicts the workings of the main character’s muddled mind. However, Bjorn’s thoughts are presented very logically, and even though they may seem to be irrational, the author presents them in such a clear way that we accept them, on some level, and begin to understand Bjorn, a troubled low level employee who believes he is brilliant and more deserving of success and recognition than any of those around him, even his superiors. He believes he is superior in all things, and with the presentation of his perspective, his personal philosophy is carefully laid out for the reader, as the days progress. I would describe him as an “outsider” who believes that he is an “insider”, as someone who believes that those truly inside are atypical and are outside his own sphere of reference. He has it “inside out”, although those who are truly on the inside are not very likeable. This troubled character has been beautifully drawn by the author, so that the reader is aware that the narrative represents the chaoitic nature of his mind. Although he carefully orders his lifestyle, he is betrayed by his disordered psyche. The irrational though lucid way in which he expresses himself, confuses those around him, and by the very nature of the audacity with which he presents his case each time the subject of his behavior is raised, we are compelled to try and understand him. When we first meet Bjorn, a man who has probably been demoted, but believes since the workplace he has been assigned to is larger than his former one, although his personal space is no longer private and his salary is lower, that he has been promoted in some way, we realize that we are dealing with someone who lives in a bit of an alternate universe. Yet, he expresses his theories in ways that justify them so we are sometimes mystified by his behavior and our own reactions to him.
Bjorn appears lonely, introverted, misunderstood and even arrogant, at times. Although he may often appear paranoid, he can appear very sane, as well. The manifestation of his flights of fancy, his sojourns in “the room” seem to be credible at first, until the reader becomes aware of the fact that “the room” exists in a part of his mind, a small space, like the space “the room” occupies, a place in his imagination. Although he measures the floor space to justify its existence and finds it coming up short, he creates a reasonable explanation for the missing part of the building on his floor. He decides that there is a conspiracy to keep the room secret from everyone, even the Director General.
Bjorn’s greatest asset is his mind, but it is also his greatest downfall. He is bright and clear-headed so that he is able to perform above the level of the other workers, bringing some fame to his department as their overall competence improves because of his output.
The Office workers may have tried to befriend him, at first, to figure out what he was doing that was making them so uncomfortable, to understand his behavior, but he rebuffed everyone. He is hostile and so he causes hostility in return. He negatively judges all around him and remains aloof and condescending in his attitude. The fellow workers begin to meet in secret to discuss his aberrant behavior and eventually pass judgment upon him. He in turn has been and continues to, pass judgment upon them. Each, in turn, makes unreasonable demands which can really not be met by Karl, the ultimate boss of their department. He follows procedure, and in the end, the take-down of Bjorn is not really a take-down, because Bjorn outsmarts them all, and possibly himself, in order to escape their ridicule and his own humiliation, by entering the world of “the room” and disappearing within its walls. The reader is left wondering if he has truly entered the world of his fantasy and will not return, waking from his trance, as he so often did, previously, or has he truly disappeared.
It has been described as the Kafkaesque journey of Bjorn, but I believe it was also a Kafkaesque journey for the other workers who found themselves confounded by his explanations, demands and accusations and also found that their boss was hamstrung by policy. They began to reduce their own confusion and discomfort, caused by Bjorn’s behavior, to petty demands. They wanted equal treatment although their behavior was normal and according to policy was thus not rewarded. Surely the scene was upside down, in the final analysis, because the zoo was being run by the animals, but it was hard to know recognize the actual animal in question in each episodic encounter.
Could someone so demented actually carve out a space, assert himself so well that he could assume power? The irrational mind is often successful at creating diabolical plans; a complete but over the top example is Adolph Hitler, a man able to bring the entire world to its knees in an effort to defeat his irrational ravings which were, at first, believed and followed by so many. On a small scale, although he attracted many enemies, Bjorn was able to attract some followers because of his accomplishments at work, regardless of his bizarre behavior.
The book has also been described as the representation of a man trying to fight corporate culture, trying to find a place for himself in a world out of his control, yet, I found a man so detached from reality that I believe he merely wanted to find a place in the world, period, a place where he was the be-all, end-all judge and jury of his life in its entirety. He was so regimented and so obsessive that he could not have functioned in many positions well unless he was able to divert his mind to another place where he ultimately found sanctuary.
The author has done an amazing job of getting into the mind of this character and painting a portrait of him so that I could picture him, the other workers and the workspace without much effort. I could enter “the room” with him and feel his frustration and his release as I could also feel the frustration of his fellow workers who were subjected to his anomalous behavior. This little book, both in size and length, stands out a bit larger than life and will make the reader both chuckle and wonder at the antics of the characters and then question their motives and sanity at the same time.
Bjorn prefers to live in a world I will call “the emperor’s new room”, because there, he is in charge, he is respected and he is not ridiculed or laughed at because he is different, rather he does the judging and the smirking. How did the author get so completely into this benign mind of madness into which he draws the reader step by careful step? It is a quick read, but not a beach read. It is a book that should excite discussion. The power of the mind is infinite.
Thought provoking and amusing don’t usually go together, but in this book the two are married comfortably. The author has perfectly captured the mind of a social misfit. The contradictions of his life and workplace are captured flawlessly. It was a pleasure to read so creative and original a book after reading so many that seemed like clones of the one before it.
***I won this book on Goodreads and truly enjoyed it. At last there is a book that was not simply murder, mayhem and sex. At last a thought provoking book that did not go on forever into the hundreds and hundreds of pages!