Three Rooms by Jo Hamya

November 24th, 2021

As Jo Hamya says in her Author’s Note, “Three Rooms is a novel about the danger of withholding capital, principally domestic and financial.” It quotes Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and exists partly in relation to Woolf’s ideas around how “intellectual freedom depends on material things.” It follows the unnamed narrator as she moves from one living situation to another, as she goes from a shared house in Oxford (where she works as a postdoc assistant) to a friend of a friend’s sofa in London (where she works as a copy editor at a society magazine) to her parents’ home (which we don’t actually see, but which the narrator describes as having “architecture and interior design opposite of everything I would have chosen for myself,” and where her set of keys is now the spare set that her parents leave with neighbors when they go on holiday). Throughout, the novel looks at different facets of the idea of “home” and the stability and safety that idea implies—or how that stability and safety can be lacking. There are the literally unhoused people the narrator sees living in tents near her office in London; there are the people who died or were displaced in the Grenfell Tower fire; there’s the idea of England itself as home, which is complicated by racism (and by acrimonious conversations around Brexit).

While the novel looks at the big themes of “home” and “space” and what that means for the narrator in particular and people in general, it’s also excellent slice-of-life fiction about the narrator’s daily existence, with lots of sharply-observed details about life in the late 2010s, online and off. At Oxford, the narrator does a deep dive into the Instagram of someone she meets, and then runs into that person taking a selfie outside of the house where the narrator lives: when she then sees that selfie on Instagram, the narrator thinks of the house itself, the reality of it, as “less spectacular” than it looks in the (cropped and filtered) photo. She talks about spending hours looking at other people’s posts on Oxford Facebook groups, and about a dating app (which she dislikes). She talks about texting with her mom, and the generation gap in texting etiquette, complaining about the fact that her mom doesn’t “know that the thumbs-up emoji constitute[s] the end of a conversation in text.” But there are also beautifully-described passages about the physical world the narrator is moving through, like London on a rainy day with a red bus and orange leaves providing “bursts of color in covert gleams, here and there between the city’s uniformity, its color of chalky stone, of colleges, of embassies; towards the Thames, the color of glass, silver high-rises over silver water.”

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