Minimalism ain’t all it’s cracked up to be …

Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles

This debut novel, published last year, was one of those books I was instantly desperate to read, but somehow couldn’t fit in at the time. The title promised quirkiness and humour, two qualities I adore in a novel. I’m glad I finally read it, for I enjoyed it a lot…

Oskar is a successful minimalist composer who lives in an unnamed Eastern European capital city. He’s married to Laura, but she lives in the US, and their long-distance relationship is on the rocks. Needing to go to LA to dismantle his marriage, Oskar needs a house-sitter to look after his flat and his two cats Shossy and Stravvy, so he asks an old friend from university to do the honours.

His friend, who remains unnamed, narrates the events of his stay in Oskar’s flat. From the moment he arrives and is faced with an apartment of pristine minimalism complete with leather sofas, a grand piano and the beautiful blond wooden floors of the title, and not forgetting the two cats, you just know it is going to go so wrong.

Oskar, of course, has left copious instructions – but not just a list on the kitchen table like you might expect. When the piano lid is opened,

This action caused a slip of paper to waft out and describe a swooping arabesque descent to the floor. I scooped it up and read it. Oskar had written on it in a prickly, pointy, fussy hand: Please do NOT play with the piano.‘  

This note is the first of many that Oskar’s friend finds, as if his every move has been anticipated.

We read on with a real sense of schadenfreude as things inevitably happen, and Oskar’s friend tries to take care of the wooden floor.  There are some hilarious scenes, which escalate in their level of farce and absurdity as the novel progresses, although surprisingly little else actually occurs.  I found the disasters were well telegraphed and I guessed most of them anyway, but half of the comedy was in the antici…pation.

What I wasn’t expecting was the ongoing commentary throughout the novel about material things, architecture, design, stuff, and its effects on our lives.

Furniture is like that. Used and enjoyed as intended, it absorbs that experience and exudes it back into the atmosphere, but if simply bought for effect and left to languish in a corner, it vibrates with melancholy. Furnishings in museums (‘DO NOT SIT IN THIS SEAT’) are as unspeakably tragic as the unvisited inmates of old folk’s homes. The untuned violins and hardback books used to bring ‘character’ to postwar suburban pubs crouch uncomfortably in their roles like caged pumas at the zoo. The stately kitchen that is never or rarely used to bring forth lavish feasts for appreciative audiences turns inward and cold. Like the kitchen here, I thought.

I think I enjoyed this side of the novel even more than the comedy.  Looking up Wiles’s blog, I see he writes about architecture and design and was deputy editor at Icon magazine; all expertise that was brought to the novel.

Fans of Dan Rhodes will probably like this book.  I enjoyed it very much, and hope for more.  (8.5/10)

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Source: Review copy – Thank you. 4th Estate, Paperback, 295 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P).

0 thoughts on “Minimalism ain’t all it’s cracked up to be …

  1. farmlanebooks says:

    I knew you’d love this book! Dan Rhodes is an author I’m yet to try, but I think I own some of his books. Now you’ve compared the two I’ll have to dig out one of his books and give it a try.

    • gaskella says:

      Jackie, you must read Rhodes then. I adored ‘Gold’ (which I read just pre-blog) so haven’t reviewed on here. I’ve heard great things about his latest, but I haven’t read that yet.

  2. Jenny says:

    That commentary on things and their functions is indeed very interesting! I think people tend to be at their best writing about topics that truly fascinate and excite them.

    • gaskella says:

      Given that the plot of the novel was a farce, this design philosophy aspect – well-written too – was surprising and the book is full of it. A confident debut as they say.

  3. Marie says:

    I really enjoyed this one – one of my favourites of last year. I’m yet to read any Dan Rhodes so am intrigued to hear the two compared. I’ve actually chosen to give a copy of this book away on my blog at the moment as part of the Literary Blog Hop if anybody wants to stop by after reading your review!

  4. Leah says:

    This sounds great! You had me at “two cats Shossy and Stravvy.” I’m not sure why, but those just seem like amazing cat names. But the rest of the book sounds really good as well!

    • gaskella says:

      I loved the names too Leah. Good cat names are important aren’t they! When we got some kittens, they came called Beryl the Peril and Calamity Jane, and we started off calling them Chablis and Shiraz for a while, but that didn’t work – Shabby and Raz weren’t right. They ended up as Abby (for Abacab, album by Genesis!) and Maddie (for Proper Little Madam) and that was much better,

  5. winstonsdad says:

    Oh a bit dan rhodes I like his books so this one seems in a similar comic vein to the rhodes ,I remember someone mention it briefly round time it came out ,all the best stu

  6. Kinga says:

    This sounds really interesting except for the ‘unnamed Eastern European city’. I rather dislike how some Western writers treat Eastern Europe as some sort of Neverland. Sometimes they invent whole countries in Eastern Europe like it’s nothing, whereas you hardly ever see them inventing a new state in the US.

    I might be biased, of course.

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