People In The Room

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Title: People In The Room (original title: Personas En La Sala)

Writer: Norah Lange

Publishing House: And Other Stories

Date of Publication: August 9th 2018 (first published 1950)

Rating: 5 stars

‘’To me, it always seemed unnecessary to watch a storm. This time, though, I had no chance to be angry because I forgot about everything, and unknown to anyone, just like that, suddenly, without warning, without turmoil, without dead horses, without any midnight knocks at the door or even a single cry during the siesta, for me the street had begun.’’

A young woman is transfixed by what seems an ordinary scene of domestic life. In the house across the street, clearly visible from the window of her living room, unhindered by shutters and curtains, three women are sitting, almost motionless. Day after day, they are there, like statues, frozen in time and space. And our narrator is bewitched. Seen as an escape from her own reality, she becomes obsessed and her passion grows once the first signs of life in the women’s company are seen. As she finds the courage to make her presence known to them and become their regular visitor, we start wondering. What is real and what is a dark fantasy of a disturbed soul?

‘’Arenida Juramento would always be – at least on first hearing its name, though later it could be other things – a dimly lit drawing room looking out onto the street, with shadowy corners, and three pale faces that appeared to be living at ease.’’

Norah Lange was supposedly inspired by the famous portrait of the Brontë sisters and constructed a story that dances over the boundaries of reality and the land of dreams and fantasies. Our narrator, a girl of seventeen, on the threshold between girlhood and womanhood, is highly unreliable and there lies the fascination of the novel. Clearly suffering from anxiety, her mind is haunted by the concept of death and, especially, suicide. Her mother struggles with her own problems and the girl has no one (or wants no one) to turn to. The three women become the centre of her existence, but is it a way out of her claustrophobic world or one more hindrance?

Lange’s novel is so strange and so demanding. As you read, you feel as if you’ve landed at the centre of a hallucination. We often use this term but here we’ll find its definition. Lange creates a hypnotic scenery and the characters of our narrator and the elderly sister (if we accept that the three women are sisters…) are very complex and provide much food for thought. And yet, we start all over again and ask the same question? Is everything real or have we found ourselves within the strange fantasies of a young woman? At times, we’ll feel as if we’re in a loop of observation, expectation and whispers of death. So, by the time you reach the last page, you’ll have to decide. I know I still haven’t.

Some have said that nothing happens in the story. Lord give me strength! There are books where the writing, the thoughts of the characters and the questions raised are far more eloquent than any ‘’action’’, the way they mean it, at least. If you’re looking for a Jack + Jill book, look elsewhere. If you’re unwilling to use the cells in your brain (grey or not..), turn elsewhere. For the rest of us, this is one of the most particular, enchanting, haunting books we’ll ever read.

‘’But they kept sitting there, in silence, and I wondered (it was impossible not to wonder), ‘’Who will mourn for them?’’