I have a fascination with interiors. I love them. I could look at rugs and console tables for days on end. My pinterest is dominated by home decor. I visit Oka like some people visit galleries, and in fact once spent considerably longer in Oka South Ken than I just had in the Saatchi gallery.
This interest kicked off early. Barely had I cancelled my longstanding subscription to H&P magazine (Horse and Pony, natch), I moved straight onto ‘Your Home’, a decidedly budget interiors magazine which fanned my passion into the flames. I still lament my mother’s refusal to let me redecorate my room in lime and silver aged 15. I was so ahead of my time.
So when I spotted an module at university entitled “Interiors in Edwardian Literature” I felt that this, surely, would be the summit of my twin passions. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite ready for a lecture on, say, The Forsyte Saga, which concentrated solely on the domestic ornaments mentioned. I found it extraordinarily frustrating to analyse the meaning behind marks were scratched into a window pane (not the subject of the marks) on the protagonists of an Elizabeth Bowen masterpiece when the entire Irish Troubles were being blithely ignored. I wrote a damning account of this approach in my review of the module, only to quail with shame when that professor’s generous markings of my essays were the only thing that dragged me up a grade boundary. The shame lives on and I’ve been overly attentive to interiors in novels from then on.
Room has a unique approach to interiors, as seen through the eyes of a boy who has never left a single room. The furniture is inscribed with every stage of his life – he can even see the stain on the rug where his mother gave birth to him. Each furniture item gets a capital letter denoting its importance, and later in the book the boy is baffled to encounter a lamp which is indeed a lamp – but not Lamp. Running involves running around the room; trampolining is jumping on the bed. Forks are known individually. The relationship with every element of the interior is close. It makes you wonder how closely you really know the spaces you call home. Do you know every spider web as it builds, the numbers of the tiles, exactly the number of steps across each room? I’d guess not. To a large extent home is unseen, however much we strive to beautify it.
The dark reality of this relationship with the room [spoiler] emerges as we realise it is in fact a secure shed in which the boy and his mother are imprisoned by the man who abducted her eight years before, whose repeated rape has created our narrator who, at 5 years old, does not understand the situation. The room is his world and, to his understanding, all that’s ‘real’ in the world. He cannot conceive of anything outside of the 4 walls.
In this light, the relationship with the room is a dark replacement for human interaction and interests. Who has time to know their homes so intimately when they have lives to live in them? Interiors shouldn’t be a fetish in and of themselves but habitats which help us live as we wish. Which isn’t remotely an arguments against interior decoration: on the contrary, a colour scheme which brightens a room brightens our lives; a beautiful chair can fill us with appreciation and pleasure. But their point is to better our lives in our daily, mostly subconscious interaction with them. In this way they are very much extensions of our selves. My uni professor, and My Home magazine, were right. I must hunt him out and make sure he has a subscription.