A young woman in Buenos Aires spies three women in the house across the street from her family’s home. Intrigued, she begins to watch them. She imagines them as accomplices to an unknown crime, as troubled spinsters contemplating suicide, or as players in an affair with dark and mysterious consequences.
...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.