A Literary Commentary: the L-Shaped Room

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Hannah Steinitz

A Literary Commentary

        At rock-bottom, pregnant, in a dark, dirty room, and sharing the building with prostitutes, one may still (surprisingly!) have thought to spare in noticing the irony of their situation.

The extract from “The L-Shaped Room,” by Lynne Reid Banks, is taken from page 1 of chapter 1, so even without reading, it can be understood that the purpose of it is to ‘set the scene’ and introduce the main character, or at least provide an interesting and grasping introduction to the novel. It is not too clear if there was a definite intention other than that in three paragraphs, but there is a substantially big revelation in relation to the narrative character at the end of the last paragraph, that she was pregnant.

The extract takes readers into the mind of that woman as they read her thoughts in relation to the place she is in and the people around her, which are many times ironic and to a certain extent funny (black humour), even though, at first glance, the extract seems dull, melancholic and bleak. For example, the sign that read “Don’t Leave Tap Driping” with its orthographical error, her decision not to clean the window since “what the hell, no one’s going to see it,” which shows that she is not as depressed as we might be lead to think of as she has enough energy to comment on her surroundings. Her conversation with the woman about the prostitutes also shows certain irony, as there supposedly “was even an advantage to having them there,” when in fact it could become a terrible inconvenience. Her “carefully locking the door” showed that the protagonist was aware of the place she was in as she left her few belongings behind. Finally, and very subtly, what highlights the reader’s overall impressions of the place and people is that “Just because you don’t ask questions … doesn’t mean you’re not curious,” which gives the impression that eyes follow her in that place and that judgment is made, enhancing the negative qualities of the space.

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The use of pathetic fallacy in the extract mirrors the feelings of the character with her sordid surroundings, and since space description predominates, consequentially, so does that of her character. The “greyish sort of day,” “dark brown wallpaper inside and peeling paint outside” and “old ink-written notice” show to be very effective as an indication of her feelings.

The passage seems rather bleak and the reader’s feelings are those of the character, who seems very depressed, and there might even be sympathy for her being in such a horrible place, which also accentuates a certain difficulty of the condition, aided ...

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