When the anonymous narrator of Will Wiles's debut novel is asked to house-sit for Oskar, his university friend, he seizes the opportunity. Tired of writing leaflets for local authorities, he wants to use the quiet time in an Eastern European city to work on a novel. With no distractions, save Oskar's two cats, he can finally get started.
Oskar is a minimalist composer and his apartment reflects his very particular taste, with stark white walls, black leather seating and expensively pale wooden floors. Wiles's background as an architecture and design journalist is apparent in his detailed descriptions of Oskar's show home living space. It is also evident when he describes the area around the flat, with its brutalist architecture occasionally interspersed with remnants of a more refined era. The city remains nameless, but there is a strong sense of place, with the narrator very much adrift in an alien environment.
Although he is mostly off-stage, Oskar is a vivid presence, whether in flashback or in the many bizarre notes he leaves his house guest. Most of all, Oskar worries about his beautiful wooden floor and directs his friend's attention to a book, Care Of Wooden Floors, that will provide solutions for any mishaps.
The house guest leaves a small red wine stain on Oskar's pristine, blonde wood floor and from there a comedy of errors ensues, culminating in death and the deconstruction of said floor. Wiles has a knack for dry humour but it is with surreal slapstick that he really excels, the house guest's relationship with Oskar's bat-faced cleaner being the prime example. The cats, with their superior attitude, are also a source of amusement. The house guest muses that the raised tail of a retreating cat looks like a raised middle finger conveying the cats' disdain for their human caretaker.
Over the week, as events spiral out of control, writing is the last thing on the house guest's mind. Trying to repair the damage he has wrought before Oskar discovers it, only makes things worse and leaves him fearful. But this is nothing to how he feels when he discovers Oskar's true motive for letting such a lazy and spatially challenged acquaintance loose in his perfect apartment.
This is a well-written debut exploring Western society's obsession with obtaining the "right" objects, as though merely possessing them will lead to happiness. It certainly works on that level but is also successful as an absurdist tale of how one small mistake can result in pandemonium.
House-sitter's absurdist tale