If, as Virginia Woolf once argued, a woman needs money and a room of her own, what does she do when neither is available to her? How can she be her own person if the only jobs available pay minimum wage and rents are out of reach? In "Three Rooms," Jo Hamya confronts these questions as her unnamed narrator, a woman of color in London, struggles over the course of a year to call a space "hers."

The book begins as she moves into a room at Oxford University, her space while she works as a research assistant. When she tells her neighbor that she has taken the position while she waits to see if the job market will open up, the man's vague disapproval of her desire to work in the "real world" annoys her, especially his assumption that work for her means money, rather than following her passion. She will encounter this attitude several times throughout the narrative, and it is further complicated by other characters' insistence that her college education erases any prejudice she might suffer because of her race.

Among the ironies she recognizes, however, is that being able to do a job that one loves often starts with having financial independence in the first place. She hesitates to tell her neighbor what she really wants.

"At that point," the narrator thinks, "it was still too intimate to tell this stranger that the end goal I wanted, through any job necessary, was to be able to afford a flat, not just a room, and then to settle in it, and invite friends to dinner. I thought I had put reasonable effort into this desire through successive degrees while waiting for the economy to clear up enough to raise the median starting wage."

Hamya is brilliant at invoking the milieu in which young adults move. Not only have they been deposited into an economy that offers lower real wages than previous generations, but they are also expected to enter a housing market that makes even renting an apartment a luxury. The narrator feels vague shame for wanting the sorts of "normal things" that are taken for granted — shelter, for instance — and then being lectured by older adults that she has to wait her turn, that being broke and couch-surfing is what she should expect at this stage in her life.

In entering her narrator's consciousness, Hamya has written a political novel that never explicitly states its politics. One of the most affecting scenes is about the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire, in which dozens perished. The reality that even if one had one's own shelter, being "safe at home" required the kind of money that was out of reach.

And she skewers social media for its performative aspect, while capturing the poignancy of a world in which everyone is living their best lives. Online, after all, was the one place where "there was all the space you wanted there, you paid no money for it, and you could do with it whatever you chose."

Economic austerity has shut down opportunity for the younger generations. Wanting a room of one's own shouldn't be such an impossible desire.

Lorraine Berry is a writer in Oregon.

Three Rooms
By: Jo Hamya.
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 208 pages, $25.