A Room Called Earth by Madeleine Ryan
Here’s the plot pitch: in a first-person stream-of-consciousness narrative, a young woman describes her preparations for a night out at a party. She goes to the party; she meets some people; she comes home. With such a simple set-up, how does this quietly elegant novel do so much, and so compellingly? A Room Called Earth is a novel of many contradictions, but key to its accomplishments are the beautifully rendered literary depictions of feelings and emotions.
From the first page, the reader is enfolded in the narrating character’s captivating internal monologue as she moves through the night; her ruminations offer a profoundly affecting and humane representation of what it feels like to be a person in the world, describing sensations that move between belonging and detachment, at times shuttling between these feelings and their desires quite quickly, and occasionally offering the sense of them simultaneously. Sometimes, the novel feels like an other-worldly cinematic dreamscape, but its location in urban Melbourne at a familiar scene of youthful excess – the house party – places it firmly in the realm of the reader’s understanding. First-time novelist Madeleine Ryan explores her character’s interior world with a fearless precision, giving voice to subjective experiences that are somehow both utterly unique and very familiar. Here, no topic is beyond serious and extended contemplation, while the social norms that we are told keep civil society turning are interrogated at every opportunity. Ryan’s presentation of the internal self at the very moment it intersects with the external world and the lives of others is exciting and exceptional.
This is a knockout debut novel from an author with a refreshing, neurodiverse perspective, and a skilled writerly hand. This book made me feel exhilarated about what fiction can do: reading it is a grounding experience that also sets the reader free. I fell completely under its mesmeric spell, and I absolutely loved it.