Will Wiles - Care of Wooden Floors
This review is in today's Independent, but due to a glitch on their website, it's not on the web, so I'm allowed to paste it instead:
Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles
Harper Press £12.99
Reviewed by Leyla Sanai
Goethe knew perfection was unattainable, opining that certain flaws were necessary for the whole, and that it would seem strange if old friends lacked certain quirks. Unfortunately, this view is not shared by Oskar, the diligent Eastern European composer at the heart of this book. When his personal life disintegrates and he has to fly to L.A, he asks an old British university friend to fly over and flat-sit. This novel is about the events that befall the nameless friend during his stay.
Wiill Wiles, an architecture and design journalist, is well qualified to describe the gorgeous interiors of his hapless hero's temporary home. More importantly, he is a talented comedy writer, and intelligent enough to anticipate his readers' thoughts so that the disasters that unfold are not clumsy slapstick of an obvious, crude nature, nor lazily opportunistic gags, but accidents that occur despite the narrator's best efforts to be careful.
Guffaw-out-loud moments are frequent, married to the horrified recognition that provokes instant empathy. Many will nod with bemused sympathy at the narrator's piteous regrets and entreaties: 'It seemed...so unfair and limiting that life does not have a little switch or dial that can turn time back a short way. A mere thirty seconds would be enough for most situations...,not much to ask, but it seemed we were stuck with the tedious, unrelenting tyranny of linear time.'
Wiles is also excellent on social interaction: when the usually composed Oskar confides his problems to his friend, the latter experiences 'a combination of fellow- feeling for Oskar and the sort of wild, exhilarating interest that comes with something bad happening to a close friend - a mad glee at the opportunity to go on emotional safari in a passionate place for the span of a conversation, and then step back into a milder climate with no lasting implications. These feelings were overlaid with an acute fear that I might not be seen to be reacting in the correct way, and the usual British horror at the possibility that someone might start crying.'
Wiles sketches some delectably hideous peripheral characters such as a battle-axe cleaner ('displeasure flashed across a face supremely adapted for displaying that emotion') and the new-age Californian author of the eponymous book Care of Wooden Floors, who has written '20 books, including Care of Wives, Care of Husbands, Care of Children, Care of the Inner You, Care of Paintings, Care of Vintage Cars, Care of Antique Furniture and Care of Swimming Pools.'
When the first dark event occurs, this reader was momentarily shocked out of jollity - unless you like your humour very black, humour is tainted by sadness at this point. And a similar but more sizeable catastrophe near the end pulls the story towards farce. The resolution, too, is not without problems, seeming glib, convenient and implausibly neat, and provoking 'but even if x, it still means y' niggles. Still, this is a very funny novel combining schadenfreude and belly laughs. Just don't let Wiles flat-sit for you.
Re: Will Wiles - Care of Wooden Floors
Thanks, Leyla, for introducing what is for me a totally new author's name. I'm glad there still are emerging authors in this world of bestsellers, soundbites and the stack 'em high and sell 'em cheap mentality. I'll ask about this book in The English Bookshop here in town.
Re: Will Wiles - Care of Wooden Floors
It's a very funny book, Eric. I have read some excellent debuts this year. The one I'm currently raving about is Patrick Flanery's Absolution, which is set in South Africa and matches Coetzee and Galgut in its powerful depiction of that country's problems, past and present.
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