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Room for a Stranger

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.


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Melanie Cheng
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.

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Text publication date:
7 May 2019
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Praise for Melanie Cheng
andRoom for a Stranger

‘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.’

‘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.’

‘Melanie Cheng is an astonishingly deft and incisive writer.’

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.’

‘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.’

‘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.’

‘I can’t think of anyone who writes human connection as beautifully as Melanie Cheng. Room for a Stranger is superb.’ 

‘Cheng’s work is polished and affecting.’ 

‘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.’

‘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.’

‘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.’

‘[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.’

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.’

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.’

‘A tender and touching novel written with a sharp understanding of human nature.’

‘A smart read that highlights the joy of human relationships.’

Room for a Stranger touches gently on the lives of ordinary people with great dexterity and empathy.’

‘Sacrifices provide shocking plot turns in this exquisitely written novel while also serving up a brilliantly pitched slice of modern Australian life.’

‘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.‘

‘Neither Meg nor Andy are extraordinary people, but Cheng brings their humanity, their striving and their questioning to the fore with quiet tenderness.’

‘A vitally contemporary novel.’

Room for a Stranger is a sweeping tale of love, loss and loneliness.’

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 cliché and sentiment — that it’s a true joy to read. I loved it.’

‘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.’

‘[Melanie Cheng] crafts her debut novel with wonderful warmth, wry humour and authenticity.’

‘A considered, contemplative, and immensely readable exploration of the value of human connection in an increasingly isolated and disconnected world.’

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