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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



The White Room

by
Zoran Živković


general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The White Room



Title: The White Room
Author: Zoran Živković
Genre: Novel
Written: 2021 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 204 pages
Original in: Serbian
Availability: The White Room - US
The White Room - UK
The White Room - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Serbian title: Бела соба
  • Translated by Randall A. Major

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyably loopy metafiction

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       Author Zoran Živković -- and his work -- are at the heart of The White Room. The author of twenty-two books and teacher of creative writing, now in his early seventies, narrates the novel -- yet another metafictional foray, with yet a different twist, from Živković.
       It begins simply enough: as Živković announces in the novel's opening line: "Ivana had gone missing". Ivana is Ivana Đurić, the woman Živković has been involved with for the past two years. They've lived together for the past year or so, and when she doesn't return home on this evening Živković gets very worried, very fast.
       He doesn't wait long: it's only two hours after she's supposed to have returned home that he calls the local Belgrade police station. He reaches Senior Inspector Sanja Mrvaljević, who doesn't simply tell him to wait a while longer but actually looks into the case. (She also happens to be familiar with Živković's work.) She doesn't even take long before getting back to him, reporting that, while they haven't made contact with her, they know where she is and have no reason to suspect anything bad happened to her. She appears to have gone to her destination of her own free will, and since she's an adult: "she's free to go wherever she wants".
       The news is only semi-reässuring to Živković. Of course, he's relieved to hear she's apparently safe -- but that doesn't explain her sudden disappearance or why he can't reach her or why she hasn't left a clue behind as to what her intentions might be.
       The next morning, he gets an e-mail from Ivana -- not with any text, but just what looks like a link. When he clicks it, he sees a video -- Ivana in a jungle setting, wearing the same clothes she had gone out in the day before. Baffled, he contacts Inspector Mrvaljević again, and sends her the link.
       Soon the Inspector is taking a considerably greater interest in the case -- as then are other authorities. Živković continues receiving videos -- all in different settings, each as baffling as the first -- and the authorities have difficulty determining what's behind the hyperlinks. And, while the police were so sure about her whereabouts -- having tracked her via the near-omnipresent CCTV coverage of Belgrade's streets -- it turns out they might have missed something. Ivana remains elusive, and whatever game she seems to be playing mystifying; as Inspector Mrvaljević notes: "Ms. Đurić has confronted us with quite a serious problem".
       As the Inspector sums up:

Ms. Đurić seems to disappear, then begins sending you enigmatic video messages via even more enigmatic links, not caring at all if she draws the attention of the police. She's certainly not doing so for no reason. Why couldn't she just tell you what she wants in a simpler fashion ? Why did she have to resort to something so complex ?
       Živković, too, can't explain what's going on -- "This is all really ... insane ... impossible ... Ivana is the last person in the world who would play games with the police", he splutters. Unfolding over the course of barely more than a single day, the case keeps snowballing -- and: "The inexplicable had become quite common with almost everything that happened".
       The authorities take a very great interest in the case -- and in Živković, down to installing surveillance in his apartment so they can keep tabs on him. The Inspector tells him about the hidden cameras, but that doesn't make him feel any better about being constantly watched (and, of course, the knowledge that he is being observed affects how he acts).
       It all happens very fast, even as he and the police seem to be making little headway:
     Here I was now in the same place, only twenty-four hours later: Ivana had disappeared without a trace. I was under house arrest, the secret service were watching my every move, we were both suspected of preparing a terrorist attack and the enigmas around me kept multiplying.
       Živković does eventually realize some things that might help him figure his way out of this situation. For one, in each of the videos Ivana does something which he knows she generally would not or could not do. And then there are the videos themselves, as he realizes the short scenes are not nearly as arbitrary as they initially seemed. Indeed, he comes to see something obvious about them -- so clearly that it's soon also obvious just how many more he can expect .....
       The White Room keeps the wheels spinning for quite a while -- video after video which, while slightly revealing, don't provide that much insight by themselves -- but the sum, when it comes, is then more than those parts. The White Room reveals itself as both more obviously and more intricately metafictional than initially suggested, as it is, indeed, all about the author and his work.
       If not, it seems, entirely left to his own imagination, the writer is practically in a bubble the whole time -- mostly housebound, with no physical human contact. He never meets Inspector Mrvaljević, for example, though he has many conversations with her over the telephone. And, of course, Ivana is basically a phantom figure for most of the novel, seen only in video-snippets. Even as Ivana seems everywhere (including then, at once ...) and nowhere, and Živković sees himself being seen -- via the video surveillance installed in his apartment, and to the extent that Inspector Mrvaljević can react to some of his actions as if she were in the same room with him --, his perspective is far-reaching only in his mind's eye, and his reality is closely circumscribed. But then that's generally the way a writer's world must seem .....
       Živković playful novel is yet another quite successful variation on his familiar themes. Yes, some familiarity with his other works adds to the enjoyment of this one -- but, like the others, it also stands neatly and nicely on its own. It's another clever addition to an extensive library that should appeal particularly to book-lovers drawn to fiction that explores the interplay of writing, reading, and living.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 May 2022

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Links:

The White Room: Reviews: Zoran Živković: Other books by Zoran Zivkovic under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Zoran Živković was born in Belgrade in 1948.

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© 2022 the complete review

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