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The Bitterest Spill
Care of Wooden Floors - Will Wiles
Member Name: fizzywizzy
Care of Wooden Floors - Will Wiles
Advantages: Brilliant debut novel; dark and horribly funny
Disadvantages: None for me
When Oskar asks an old university friend to look after his apartment while he goes to attend to his divorce in Los Angeles, he clearly has some inkling that the property may not be looked after exactly as he would wish. Why else would he leave notes hidden around the flat outlining the action to be taken should the worst occur? The worst, it seems, would be damage to the apartment's pristine wooden floor and Oskar's notes stress the importance of acting quickly should anything be spilled on the boards.
The apartment is on the first floor of an old building in the heart of some unnamed eastern European capital city where Oskar lives with his two cats Shossy and Stravvy. Oskar is a composer best known for his work 'Variations on Tram Timetables', a piece inspired by the sounds of his native city.
The friend, a writer, is hoping to use the time to do some real writing. He wants to be an author but he earns a living writing copy such as recycling information leaflets for local authorities. The friend is in awe of minimalist Oskar and his successful organised life. His own life is a celebration of mediocrity and, aside from his impending divorce, Oskar's appears to be pretty perfect.
It should come as no surprise to learn that Oskar's fears are realised. It's only a few drops of wine but they might as well be a deluge. A few drops can't be difficult to remove, can they? No need to bother Oskar. Might as well go and do some sightseeing. Have an evening out with one of Oskar's friends. Won't hurt, after all there's plenty of time to think about the floor before Oskar comes back.
It's not that simple, of course. The problem snowballs with fatal results and still the friend doesn't let Oskar know what's happened to his beloved wooden floor.
Care of Wooden Floors has all the elements of a farce combined with a very, very dark streak. We know that the friend will damage the floor, we just don't know when and author Will Wiles keeps us guessing, building up the tension in a clever but subtle way. This is a novel that made me simultaneously laugh uncontrollably and gasp with horror. If the beginning had been outlined to me and then the outcome described I'd have said it must be an absurd story - and indeed it is - yet the way to story develops is entirely credible.
The story is told by means of a first person narrative through the eyes of the friend. I really admired in Wiles writing the ability to develop two very strong characters with minimal effort while keeping the story in focus. Through a series of flashbacks we learn how the unlikely friendship came about: the friend and Oskar are like chalk and cheese yet somehow have maintained this friendship since university days. The secondary characters, too, seem very real but it is the portrait of Oskar, who appears in the present tense only by telephone and through his notes, that really shines. There are hints of obsessive compulsive disorder in the character but when the friend ignores Oskar's requests to behave in a certain way in his home, you can't help but think his anxiety is more correctly annoyance as a result of other people being slack or selfish.
The unnamed city is almost a character in its own right. The friend knows nothing of the language, the customs and certainly not where to find someone who can fix the floor for him. It's a city I know well without knowing what or where it is; an amalgamation of those cities suddenly plunged into capitalism after years of being behind the iron curtain, a city where a night at the philharmonic seamlessly becomes a nightmare in a sex club and where angry cleaning ladies think they can be understood simply by shouting more loudly. I was reminded of my first hours in countries like Armenia and Georgia where everything seems alien and the writing is unrecognisable. Wiles does a fine job of capturing the way those cities can look familiar but soon reveal themselves to be hard work to the uninitiated.
I loved Care of Wooden Floors. It's a hilarious story about how something almost insignificant can snowball into utter disaster. It also says a lot about friendships with the ending revealing that the two men who believe they are friends actually know each other very little.
This is Will Wiles debut novel. I am confident that, if Care of Wooden Floors is anything to go by, there will be more to enjoy from this intriguing and innovative author.
Thanks to the publisher HarperPress for providing a review copy for www.curiousbookfans.co.uk where this review first appeared
Summary: An impressive debut novel