Care of Wooden Floors
by Will Wiles
3 stars - but maybe 4 for you
I'm reviewing this books as if I were recommending them to myself. So, for me, this is a three star book, but I think that for others it is easily four stars.
I heard about this book on my local NPR news station. They interviewed the author and it sounded delicious.
An unnamed British copywriter agrees to house sit his friend's apartment in an unnamed Eastern European city. A city where our hero, unfortunately, does not speak the language. The gig comes with the simple instructions of "feed the cats, don't touch the piano, and make sure nothing harms the priceless wooden floors." Easy peasy, right? Wrong.
Warning, this is a very dark novel. A bit Kafka-esque. The writing is exquisite. Describing a supermarket:
"The supermarket occupied the ground floor of one of the spearhead-shaped blocks, a wedge like the prow of a ship. A heavy antique iron clock was cantilevered out from the sharp point of the block, above the store's front entrance, layers of cellulite-lump black paint and hefty Roman numerals speaking of another age. It was a purgatory of sticky linoleum and radium-blue insectocutors."
Or when he describes being caught up in the market crowd:
"...the market was heaving; one's direction of travel was utterly limited by crowd consensus... and often your course was entirely away from your intended direction, dictated only by a new shudder of peristalsis in the folds and creases the stalls left for their wretched consumers."
The entire novel takes place over the span of eight days. During those days, there is, of course, the inevitable spillage of wine on the precious hardwood floors. A small stain, how bad can it be?
But our hero is drawn into an ever more desperate circle of misfortune and before long, dealing with a circle of wine is the least of his worries. Along the way, he is confronted by the carefully placed notes of his friend which seem to anticipate his every move. Every cabinet he opens, even the books he chooses to page through have notes that seem to have been written in response to what he is thinking at that moment.
A lovely touch is the cleaning lady. The hero doesn't understand a word she says, but she is clearly not happy with him. Her words in the book are written as "-------!"
Just when the reader thinks it can't get any worse... it does. Many surprising twists. Reading this book was a claustrophobic, panicky experience. Wow! That's great writing.
So why just three stars? Because, for me, the ending... ARG! Just NOT what I wanted at all.
No spoiler I. I will leave it to others to decide if they like the ending or not. Even if you, like me, are frustrated by the conclusion, it's worth reading for the fabulous writing.