The debut novel from an autistic writer, the story of a fiercely original young woman whose radical self-acceptance illuminates a new way of being in the world, and opens up a whole new realm of understanding and connection.
The tone is sometimes annoyingly chatty and the dialogue can be unconvincing ... If you lose patience when literary narrators ponder geopolitical evils they can’t personally rectify, this one mightn’t be for you. But it would have been strange if, for instance, the narrative had elided Australia’s settler colonialism. The protagonist is forever seeking patterns, so she would have to be really trying not to notice the system on which her country was built ... Rather than pandering to a pathologised external gaze, Ryan’s narrator evokes how many autistic people see ourselves: the normal ones in a sea of non-autistic weirdos ... From the blurb and the conventions of voice-driven novels, we know that A Room Called Earth will be an observational slice of life. If you don’t want a slice, don’t read this. If you do want a slice, it’s delicious.
In the vein of Virginia Woolf, the narrator’s incisive commentary pierces through descriptions of quotidian affairs ... The freedom to experience the narrator’s inner world makes room for objective reality. Melbourne’s neighborhoods come alive. Mud and stars, butterflies and books inhabit the narrator’s consciousness like companions. There’s a sacredness surrounding the individuals she meets and with whom she speaks, shown by the treatment of dialogue on the page. Short exchanges are set apart from the rest of the text with double spaces, while long speeches are crammed into single-space blocks, a visual expression of how people can crowd and overwhelm the narrator. But with the man she meets in the bathroom line, the anxiousness and intensity of the party give way to the pleasure of shared company ... culminates in unexpected intimacy, not only between the narrator and her new friend but also between the reader and an extraordinary mind.
Ryan’s novel covers less than 24 hours, but by book’s end, readers are left feeling remarkably bonded with this fiercely independent young woman who thinks, acts, and lives differently from the so-called norm ... Her sharp, unfiltered thoughts—compellingly presented by Australian director and debut novelist Ryan, who herself is #OwnVoices neurodiverse—never seem to pause as she skips between describing her present and divulging her past, meticulously processing her actions, and regarding herself and others from unexpected perspectives. Virtually every page offers a discerning observation ... Her piercing insight is relentless. Ryan is currently preparing her intriguing tale for the screen, but how this intense inner life will transfer across media remains to be seen—literally. Until then, read the book.