A Room Called Earth: A delicious slice of life on the spectrum

Madeleine Ryan’s narrator evokes how many autistic people see ourselves: the normal ones

Madeleine Ryan

Madeleine Ryan

God, I miss parties – the noise, the elbowing of it. I want to spend a hot Christmas at a packed terrace in Melbourne. That’s not actually something I’ve done, but Madeleine Ryan’s debut novel A Room Called Earth plus-oned me along.

On a dense, muggy Christmas Eve Eve, an unnamed autistic woman bathes, gets dressed and sips her customary going-out vodka martini with olives. She’s spent the season alone, besides her cat Porkchop, a family photo and a signed poster of Heath Ledger. A taxi takes her through Melbourne under piercing moonlight, the streets filled with fauna – lavender, daisies, jacarandas, camellias – but deserted of people. She gets out a block early: she wants to savour the eclipse and the hum of the party in the distance. “I’m yours, party,” the heroine resolves at the gate. “Take me away.”

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