Three Rooms is a novel about a young woman looking for stability in 21st century life as she drifts through a transitory year. In autumn 2018 an unnamed narrator moves into a rented room in a shared university house in Oxford, ready to take up a temporary research assistant position, but she spends most of her time scrolling Twitter and watching one of the only people she’s met do things on Instagram. When the contract ends, she finds herself in London, living on someone’s sofa and doing another temporary job at a society magazine. Once again, she feels disconnected, and as politics rolls on in the background, she considers what she can do next.
Told in the first person in a literary style with very few named characters, Three Rooms is the sort of book some people will love and others not get along with. I enjoyed it, with its clever look at privilege, class, and race, and the complications of these as the narrator takes up temporary jobs doing things from a rarified world, straddling the line between having no money and still having the ability to get a temp job at a posh magazine. I also liked the engagement with books, from the stuff about Walter Pater and Instagram to a glib commentary on modern novels which feels like it’s pointing out this book could be classed as another of them.
As it’s set at a very specific time and has a lot of politics and current events run through it, at times you do feel like there’s a bit too much Brexit going on, but that is also important to the general look at the Oxford and London worlds that provide the backdrop for a lot of the people ruling those decisions. As a fleeting first person novel, there aren’t really answers to the issues raised, but more a look at a version of millennial existence.
I have lived in both the locations in the novel in vaguely similar circumstances, which made me drawn into the character and narrative perhaps more than I might’ve been, and there are a lot of little details that bring these locations and the protagonist’s existence to life. Three Rooms presents a clash not only between sides in political issues, but also between ways in which someone can be privileged and not, and between real life and the internet.