...The novel is one of all-consuming obsession. The nameless protagonist is a 17-year-old girl who becomes unhealthily fixated on the three women who live across the street. She sees them through the window, always sitting in the drawing room, the details of their faces just beyond her memory’s ability to hold onto. As she watches them, she imagines all kinds of stories about their lives, mostly morbid details, and what it means for her and them ...People In the Room is one of those books that stick with you in interesting, unexpected ways ... When I finished the book, I didn’t have strong feelings about it one way or the other...But then I noticed something. Days and weeks went by and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I’m still thinking about the book. In a way, I noticed I was getting as obsessed with the protagonist as she was with her three neighbors.
...The book is narrated in the first person, and its drama lies not in the events that take place but rather the wildly claustrophobic inner world of this young woman...when she first noticed the three female figures sitting in their drawing room in the house across the street. Instantly, she is obsessed, and watching 'the three plain, defenseless faces' becomes her sole purpose. ... She, herself a woman unnoticed, expresses both anxiety and relief that no one notices the neighbors. Though the three figures are almost always sitting in the same room, smoking and silent, she imagines countless insidious versions of their lives, and the fear of their deaths is her constant refrain. The short chapters read at times like a sequence of dreams as the reader follows her thoughts and reflections. The writing is crisp and direct, in stark contrast to the intricate psychological darkness the narrator inhabits, and it leaves the reader questioning every detail.
...darkly irresistible ... Read on another level, the book, first published in 1950, anticipates the nouveau roman, an 'anti-novel' style where the narrator is given full control over the plot and characters ... As for its literary precedents, they can be traced to Jorge Luis Borges’ 1940s short stories ... When mere observation is no longer enough, the dose of magic realism has to be boosted, and the girl’s fantasies grow more feverish ... There are moments when this unceasing hallucinatory state resembles someone else’s dreams, compulsively recounted, but the sheer drive of imagery compels you to listen.
...thoughtfully translated ... we are allowed a direct passageway into Lange’s observational skills and attention to stripped back yet observantly poetic language ... Lange metes out just enough mystery to ensure her readers’ loyalty ... To sit with this book is to undertake Lange’s own task of rigorous observation.
Lange portrays the narrator of People in the Room as a precocious teenager whose acuity of perception makes her feel like an interloper in her own home. We come to know the novel’s narrator-protagonist as someone whose burning desire to tell a story is at odds with her crippling awareness of the limitations posed by her lack of experience, as a sheltered seventeen-year-old surrounded by a happy family. Whose stories and whose secrets does a girl hear age have a right to? In her encounters with the three mysterious women, Lange’s protagonist wants to lash out against them, to declare (as she imagines someone declaring to her, perhaps), 'You don’t deserve to keep secrets.' At the same time, part of the reason these women fascinate her so much is that somehow, she says, 'deep inside I knew that they alone had the right to speak of death, of ill-timed affairs, of suicides, of bitter loneliness.'
...In Buenos Aires, a 17-year-old girl obsessively observes the trio of sisters (all older than her, though their exact age is never specified) across the street who spend every evening 'sitting in the drawing room, one of them slightly removed from the others.' The narrator is convinced they must be 'hiding something tragic,' and that the woman who sits separately, the eldest, is 'guilty of the crime I knew nothing about.' Desperate for answers, the narrator intercepts a telegram, then uses it as a pretext to gain entry into the house ... the narrator’s early theories about the eldest sister’s supposed criminal past are abandoned as she learns more about the family’s sad history; instead, she becomes convinced they are already dead. Much like the sisters themselves, Lange’s novel is 'painstakingly solemn and vague.' Though this inscrutability is at times frustrating, Lange’s ability to magnify the tension of the uncertainty surrounding the sisters’ loneliness transforms this largely uneventful novel into a nerve-wracking ghost story.