Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Books before I'm 30: Care of Wooden Floors By Will Wiles

Care of Wooden Floors is Will Wiles' debut novel. It features a first person narrative from an unnamed copywriter who desires to write more than council leaflets. He has come to an unnamed Eastern European city (unnamed, I suspect, so Will Wiles can happily slander its architecture and people without fear) to flat sit for his OCD friend Oskar, who, while absent for most of the novel, leaves copious notes on how to look after the flat.

Care of Wooden Floors is intended to be funny, and indeed has moments of humour, but I found it quite frustrating. The narrative can go into unnecessary detail at times in describing fairly mundane activities, and while the writing is often entertaining, it easily strays into pretentiousness.

Ultimately though it was the plot of the book which frustrated me, or rather the behaviour of the main character. Having been told that he should not leave wine glasses on the floor, he immediately does so, leaving a stain. He also allows the cats to sit on the sofa, which lets them be torn. He then, rather bizzarely, rather than consulting the book on the care of wooden floors to deal with the stain, basically ignores it, and gets drunk. This is something he does repeatedly, even when handling fairly nasty acid later on. As accident after accident piles on, he rarely takes responsibility for his actions, and comes across somewhat as a socio-path. My sympathies ended up very much with Oskar by the end of the book.

The best section was probably when he actually interacted with another human being, the even drunker Michael from Oskar's orchestra, which leads to a fairly entertaining, if somewhat inconsequential diversion.

To discuss this book further, I shall need to spoil it, so read no further if you wish that not to happen.

The book lost me a bit when he "accidentally" kills a cat, which has managed to pull a cork out of a bottle of wine he left, get drunk, then clamber into a piano and have the lid slam on it. This is absurd, and just annoyingly so. Will Wiles clearly wanted the cat today, but he clearly didn't want the narrator to be directly responsible, and so was forced to construct events in such a way as to beggar belief. The main character then decides to dispose of the body down the trash chute, but for some reason doesn't put it in a bin bag first, so the cleaner sees him do it.

This leads, later, to his accidental killing of the cleaner. He justifies himself as it being an accident, but he is the one that pushes her onto a knife sticking out on the dishwasher, and then, when she collapses from blood loss, assumes she is dead without calling emergency services, then drags her body back to her flat to try and get away with it! Bizarrely, the end of the book even seems to imply that he might have done so. He certainly shows a remarkable lack of guilt for being directly involved in the death of another human being.

I actually suspect that tonally all these events could have worked, perhaps as a third person narrative, where we get a bit more detachment, so can enjoy the blackly comic nature of the events (thats what Tom Sharpe tends to do, who writes stories of a similar manner). As it is, I found the style ultimately rather off putting.

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