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A Room Called Earth by Madeleine Ryan

A Room Called Earth felt like a perfect summer’s evening. You’ve spent the day at the beach, it’s been sweaty and salty but you’ve soaked up essential vitamins in their most pure form; you come home, wash the salt from your skin and the sand from your feet then you finally retire with an ice cold drink and reflect ‘ah what a day.’ I felt my soul swirl like the ocean while reading this book and I hope to see it making an appearance on many people’s summer reading lists as we all venture outside to soak up the sun.

In A Room Called Earth we follow our unnamed narrator, a young autistic woman, on a night out two days before Christmas. We see her getting ready for the party, at the party, and after the party. These phases of a night out are familiar to anyone who has a propensity for a good night out, however what’s different is the enlightenment we get from Ryan when this all too familiar setting is shown to us through a neurologically diverse framework.

I consumed A Room Called Earth like a good glass of wine, savouring the taste while embracing my urge to keep sipping because I just want more. It was both an extremely enlightening and comforting read. Our unnamed narrator gives us an incredibly relatable and action-packed stream of consciousness that honestly made my internal monologue felt seen. I don’t know about you but my brain never stops, so it is nice to be faced with a character whose consciousness is always ticking along and going on really extreme and random tangents.

“More because it was her inherent nature to die and to be reborn over and over and over again. Oh, wow. Look at this fucking epic house.”

I think this honest representation of the flow of thoughts will be comforting to many readers. Growing up we have been told not to care or think, or that it’s cool not to care—which frankly isn’t true, caring is super hot. Having this completely unfiltered run of thoughts is really refreshing, especially in an extremely curated world. It’s undeniable that we live in a world of falsehood and I suspect this could pose a challenge to neuro-diverse people because it makes it all the more difficult to gauge social cues and language. The way Ryan normalizes this familiar idea of “brain busy-ness” is an ideal representation of the way most people function, instead of the idea that everyone only thinks profound and succinct thoughts. While the matter of thought can and will vary, I think the impression that everyone puts thought into everything, and nothing is effortless will be reassuring for readers.

As a result of this in depth stream of consciousness we are given a very clear character. I don’t think anyone could question “who” our narrator was. There is power in passion and she has a lot of it. It was really inspiring to consider the way she looks at the world. Her trust of nature and her trust in herself was absolutely awe inspiring. I think if I had gone into reading A Room Called Earth without any prior knowledge it wouldn’t have occurred to me that our narrator was neurologically diverse. There are hints sprinkled throughout but no outright mention of autism. From this I took a few things; she is clearly not defined by her autism and if anything it is actually a gateway to a heightened personal experience of life. Autism is often seen by broader society as a limitation or a weakness, but as we change our ideas about these variations to the human brain we understand that they just exist as a difference. The way Ryan represented a woman with autism shone a light on the way neuro-typicals often focus on the wrong parts of life for society's sake.

I find it very hard to trust people whose wants and needs pale against the power of a clock, or the social pressures of being ‘polite.’”

Our narrator was so in touch with herself, her self worth and sense of existence that I truly came to envy her. I suspect that many young women who read this book will feel similarly. As generations roll over and societal standards of women continue to change we are seeing more independent women whose penultimate life-long connection is to themselves. It is irrefutable that our narrator possesses this priority and I hope it inspires many others to take on this perspective on life, but foremost themselves.

I want to give myself to myself, fully.”

The way Ryan details feelings and sensory experiences added spectacularly to the reading experience. I think it is all well and good to have relatable characters but to subtly produce a highly relatable experience is a nuance that is often overlooked when it comes to writing a modern-age story. Descriptions that contain the word “sweat” appear 10 times in the novel. In anticipation of the party our narrator notes:

It’s the best weather for a party, though, because no matter how much everyone prepares, not one strand of hair is going to remain straightened, not one armpit is going to be free of sweat. Thighs are going to stick to chairs, and shirts are going to cling to skin, and no one is going to be able to uphold their carefully constructed social facades, which is brilliant.”

Anyone who has been to a party in summer knows this feeling, it’s completely universal. We know what to expect and yet we prepare the fakery anyway (I always put my hair in a pony though, just saying). This sense of sweat, of pointless preparation is a shared experience. It allows the reader to position themself accurately, so they can recognize how their neurotypical experience differs from that of our narrator’s.

Lastly, I cannot write a review without a honourable mention and nod of respect to Ryan for such a truthful depiction of Australian history and how our country is founded on an invasion and the mistreatment of our Indigenous people. I have never read such an honest depiction of our history in mainstream fiction. I find it is often glossed over or rather sugarcoated in order to reflect upon Australia better. The way Ryan describes the Indigenous experience is factual and completely harrowing. It was quite relieving to see a fictionalized figure maintain a realistic view because this is not a narrative Australians should continue to ignore, especially in fiction.

“We were their apocalypse.”

A Room Called Earth is a phenomenal novel which is paving the way of neurological diversity in fiction. The book highlights the normality of this diversity and how a story about an autistic person doesn’t need to come from a place of struggle; it’s a story about a person, who also happens to be autistic. Neurologically diverse to me or otherwise, our narrator just gets me:

“Being solely attracted to men sucks.”

Ryan gives us a very exciting jaunt of a night. It is not one to miss this upcoming summer and it is surely not one you’ll ever be able to forget.

A Room Called Earth

By Madeleine Ryan

2020. 304 pages.


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