By the winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction, 2018.
Since her sister died, Meg has been on her own. She doesn’t mind, not really—not with Atticus, her African grey parrot, to keep her company—but after her house is broken into by a knife-wielding intruder, she decides it might be good to have some company after all.
Andy’s father has lost his job, and his parents’ savings are barely enough to cover his tuition. If he wants to graduate, he’ll have to give up his student flat and find a homeshare. Living with an elderly Australian woman is harder than he’d expected, though, and soon he’s struggling with more than his studies.
Staff Review by Ben Hunter
This book was a joy to read. I sincerely want as many people as possible to read Room for a Stranger and experience for themselves Melanie Cheng’s simple, generous and witty storytelling that so deftly portrays contemporary Australian life as it is lived by so many on the unkind edges of poverty and irrelevance.
I want readers to meet Meg, alone in her childhood home with only her African grey parrot and the occasional cappuccino excursion with her aging friends to keep her occupied. Meg’s interior life is drawn so eloquently on the pages of this book - every page seems to drip with the authors unhindered empathy for her. And I want them to meet Andy, the quiet but restless young Hong Konger who becomes Meg’s unlikely lodger. I want them to see his pained efforts to succeed at his studies in which his troubled and tormented family have invested so much. I want readers to see the uneasy journey into manhood that lies before him in a society whose casual racism is matched only by its cost of living.
In almost desperately unhappy circumstances Cheng shines light into these lives with crafty humour and astute observation. Employing a strict economy of words, she gives so much more than she asks of you. This little novel is essential.
About the Author
Melanie Cheng is a writer and general practitioner. She was born in Adelaide, grew up in Hong Kong and now lives in Melbourne.
`Melanie Cheng is doing the most difficult, most unfashionable thing: writing about the ordinary lives of ordinary people. Her accomplishment is catching the tremors of their uniqueness and, by underlining this, insisting that everyone is interesting. Being human is in itself extraordinary...This is an impressive and quietly significant book.' * Monthly *
`My god, this was a joy to read. Every year there's an Australian novel everyone endlessly passes around and recommends because they bloody love it so much, and this is going to be 2019's. Room for a Stranger explores the high stakes of quiet moments, reveals the beauty of unlikely connections and shows how the antidote to shame is always compassion. After reading this impossible-to-put-down novel, Melanie Cheng is quickly becoming my favourite Australian writer.' * Benjamin Law *
`Melanie Cheng is an astonishingly deft and incisive writer.' * Christos Tsiolkas *
Those who enjoyed Cheng's award-winning short story collection Australia Day will recognise similar themes at play here: the casual racism of white Australia, the human need to belong, and the complexity and compromise inherent in family relationships. Room for a Stranger is an impressive and delicately crafted novel from one of Australia's most talented new voices.' * Books + Publishing (starred review) *
`Combining these unlikely characters brings up social issues such as racism, how the elderly are perceived and valued, mental illness, and parental pressure. With such rich characterisation and beautiful prose, this is a wonderful, contemporary Australian novel.' * Readings *
`This is a book with great heart and its gentle unfurling of Meg and Andy's friendship, as well as the nuances of their characters, takes place with empathy and skill. Cheng's real gift as a writer is in this kind of portraiture, in no small part because of her commitment to writing about people who aren't often centred in our stories. Room for a Stranger is a tender and moving book and one that is ultimately life-affirming and full of hope and kindness.' * Saturday Paper *
'I can't think of anyone who writes human connection as beautifully as Melanie Cheng. Room for a Stranger is superb.' * Bram Presser *
`Cheng's work is polished and affecting.' * Lifted Brow *
`A beautifully written novel about how the stories we tell ourselves can get us stuck and how opening our lives to others might jolt us free again. Melanie Cheng offers both razor-sharp insight into the flaws and foibles of ordinary people and a deep warmth and tenderness for them. Room for a Stranger is that rare thing: a novel which stings and soothes all at once.' * Emily Maguire *
`Melanie Cheng's Room for a Stranger is a touching exploration of an unexpected friendship and how two vulnerable people find the strength to carry on. Cheng examines the complexities of human nature with gentle humour and thoughtful attention to the minutiae of her characters' lives. I could not put this moving, insightful novel down.' * Mirandi Riwoe *
`A wholly engrossing portrait of two very different people whose collision reminds us that the need for companionship is ultimately what unites us all. With startling humanity and precision, Cheng shows us how complex, contradictory and difficult to define we are. Her characters will linger in your mind like a great open-ended question.' * Felicity Castagna *
'[Room for a Stranger] is beautifully done. Melanie Cheng's unaffected wisdom is just delightful. You never feel she has an axe to grind or an agenda to push. She may not set out to change the world but the warmth of her affection for lonely people will help to do just that.' -- Michael McGirr * Sydney Morning Herald *
'Room For A Stranger's beauty lies in confronting the unknown parts of ourselves. It's facing up to feeling lonely, feeling like you got left behind, like you're disappointing everyone you love, and being disappointed by your own expectations. Room For A Stranger is a timely reminder of all the badness in the world, and a reminder that we don't need to give into it if we don't want to.' * Kill Your Darlings *
`Room for a Stranger confirms [Melanie Cheng's] status of one of Australia's most gifted writers...It is an important Australian novel, thought-provoking and timely. A modern masterpiece.' * Better Reading *
'A tender and touching novel written with a sharp understanding of human nature.' * Who Weekly *
'A smart read that highlights the joy of human relationships.' * Instyle *
`Room for a Stranger touches gently on the lives of ordinary people with great dexterity and empathy.' * Harpers Bazaar *
`Sacrifices provide shocking plot turns in this exquisitely written novel while also serving up a brilliantly pitched slice of modern Australian life.' * Australian Women's Weekly *
`Cheng is a writer of quiet emotion and empathy, who carves out the fine details of her characters' lives with tender but unsentimental precision...Room For A Stranger is a contemplative and rewarding read that shines a light on our potential for connection.' * Books+Publishing *
`Neither Meg nor Andy are extraordinary people, but Cheng brings their humanity, their striving and their questioning to the fore with quiet tenderness.' * ABC Arts *
`A vitally contemporary novel.' * Australian *
`Room for a Stranger is a sweeping tale of love, loss and loneliness.' * Domain *
`Room for a Stranger is a simple story about ordinary people trying to find their place in the world, but it's told in such a warm, empathetic way - free from cliche and sentiment - that it's a true joy to read. I loved it.' * Reading Matters *
'Cheng's great triumph here is that aside from the satisfying humorous moments (we see Meg's meat and three veg cooking through Andy's horrified eyes) there are no easy answers or charming moral lessons to be learned here. There are only complex and multifaceted human relationships, which are the most interesting kind.' * Overland *
`[Melanie Cheng] crafts her debut novel with wonderful warmth, wry humour and authenticity.' * Adelaide Advertiser *
`A considered, contemplative, and immensely readable exploration of the value of human connection in an increasingly isolated and disconnected world.' * Westerly *