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Three Rooms: Carving Out a Space of Your Own

Narrated by an unnamed woman of colour, Jo Hamya’s novel explores this character’s tumultuous journey into employment following her short time at Oxford University as a research assistant. The novel finds the narrator moving into her room in Oxford, in which she will live for almost less than a year, whilst trying to navigate the post-Brexit, post-Grenfell atmosphere of the country. As she walks the grounds that were once occupied by the very people that have caused the country to fall into ruins, we see her analysing the different types of characters that the current political climate has birthed, such as her annoying neighbor and the insanely privileged girl whom she meets at a formal that she was dragged to.

Three Rooms is full of instances of the narrator striving to find a sense of belonging in the multiple spaces that she occupies throughout the novel, whether it be the dorm room, her friend’s living room where she sleeps on the couch, or, quintessentially, the Turner room in Tate Britain where she observes the artists’ paintings of rural England. Hamya carries the question of what it means to live in today’s England as an educated, leftist liberal person throughout, and it feels almost impossible to not get the feeling that the narrator is also trying to figure out who she really is as she makes efforts to anchor herself in one place. Though she has spent an abundance of her time analysing, and mostly criticising, what she sees as the downfall of a generation generated by the age of the internet, the reader can sense that nevertheless she is not immune to the identity crisis that is brought about by this technology. Her endless knowledge and constant gatekeeping on the government’s and previous generation’s wrongdoings, made easier by the ‘notifications’ settings on her smartphone, has made it much harder for her to pick her fight. This confusion aids her inability to find a comfortable seat in any room she enters, as it feels like she is constantly intellectualising everything.

She is very aware of the tumultuous contrasts in her identity, as while the novel establishes that she is labelled as ‘BAME’ [Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic], she recognises her privileged background. Soon she acknowledges that there really isn’t a comfortable social role for a person of her characteristics, who falls into an intellectual grey zone, as she has already divided the world into black-and-white, an inevitable consequence of the bipartisan, divisive online environment that she occupies. Failing to fit into the copywriting job she gets at a prestigious high-class magazine after her grad role, she compares herself with the young intern who, in contrast, fits into the environment perfectly due to her elite physical and characteristic attributes. It boils down to the fact that unlike the fixed phrases of glamourisation of education that she, like all of us, was fed all her life, success, power, and autonomy all depend on classist expectations in modern London. Amongst all this, she struggles to carve out the perfect space for herself in society amongst all the chaos surrounding her and her ideals.

We see her signing up for an online dating app in hopes of curing her anger-led otherness at Oxford and dismissing the very idea of it immediately as she refuses to adapt to its very millennial existence. We witness her reading the report on Grenfell tower with sadness and criticism during her time after Oxford, attempting to understand what went wrong. She tries to make a mental note on where and who to put the blame on so that she can escape the complex and all-encompassing consequences of the incident by drawing a clean, single arrow between the problem and its cause. However, the wrongness in these instances is easy to understand, yet hard to digest given her outlook on life. Hamya gives us a narrator that is unable to find a point of reference to base her post-graduate life on. She doesn’t have a home of her own, which is what she most desperately wants as she dreams of hosting dinner parties and having friends over for casual drinks. Instead, she rents out her friend’s couch in her living room for a certain period as she works at the magazine, constantly being reminded that she is a guest and has no autonomy over the space she occupies.

The last room the narrator occupies, the Turner room at Tate Britain, in a sense mocks her experience as she is left to gaze at paintings obsessively depicting the serene English countryside, a concept and a sight that is very far from the England that she has spent most of the novel worrying over. The price of the coffee she regularly picked up on her breaks at the magazine and the rent needed for her dream life in London all seem like a distant dream in this old Turner painting, giving the impression that time-travelling had been made possible in that very room. As she takes the train back home after her time at the Tate, a sign of defeat in her London-versus-girl narrative, she realises that even the distant calmness of the countryside that she had gazed at in the Turner paintings, which she had taken for granted, has been lost. Maybe finding a place for yourself in already established social environments, whether it be your job at Oxford or a high-class magazine, or even the London housing market, is not a sustainable way of simply being and existing in this British political and social climate.

Hamya beautifully paints the incompatibility of the social concepts created by those who had lived an undeniably similar life to that of the narrator, even attending the same educational institutions, and the ideals of those who are like the narrator, and carefully tends to the imminent stress that is caused by it. The unfortunate ties between employment and standard of life are brought to light through her words, unafraid to call out the false pretense that you only need to work hard to have a good life. As one immerses themselves in this story through the perspective of the narrator, one can feel their chest tightening up and their palms sweating through the intelligently reflected anxieties that obstruct the narrator’s goals and dreams. Three Rooms does not exaggerate the realities of life in London as an idealist young person and depicts the fall of the capitalist dream of graduating and finding a fulfilling job. Any student or recent graduate can recognise the complexities faced by the narrator in this novel as we collectively come to the realisation that the world operates on a different standard than what we were taught, which is not one that we can easily get comfortable with.


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