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.
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)
‘Melanie Cheng is an astonishingly deft and incisive writer.’ – Christos Tsiolkas
‘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
‘Cheng’s eye is sharp and sympathetic, her characters flawed and funny and utterly believable.’ – Jennifer Down on Australia Day
‘Melanie Cheng’s stories are a deep dive into the diversity of humanity. They lead you into lives, into hearts, into unexplored places, and bring you back transformed.’ – Michelle Wright on Australia Day
‘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
‘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’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
‘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