In this debut novel by neurodivergent author Madeleine Ryan, we spend a night in the mind of a young woman on the autism spectrum as she prepares for, and attends, a lavish Christmas Eve party in Melbourne.
Exposed to her acerbic, self-aware, painfully deadpan inner monologue, readers who loved the quirky characters in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and Convenience Store Woman (and maybe even George Simsion’s Rosie trilogy) will find Ryan’s narrator just as empathetic and beguiling. But whereas those protagonists starred in narrative-driven novels laden with heightened melodrama, the lead in A Room Called Earth isn’t fated to have an eventful night; the strength of the book is that its foundation lies in the every day. Nothing extraordinary occurs at the party. What’s extraordinary is the ordinariness of her thoughts and observations; her refusal to adhere to entrenched societal expectations clashing with a desire to belong, and to make a deep, long lasting human connection. Relatable, much? However different neurodiverse people view the world, our wants and desires boil down to the same fundamentals.
Throughout her night, and into the next morning, our narrator deliberates over feminism, Indigenous Australians, love, toxic masculinity, mysticism; a whole smorgasbord of subjects float to the surface of her stream of consciousnesses, and it all meshes cohesively, and beautifully. A Room Called Earth is a fresh and exceptionally strong portrait of a young woman, void of the sentimentality and theatrics that could easily have turned the proceedings into a soap opera. It’s a smashing debut.
Publication: 1 September 2020