The Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles

by Amy Pirt

Two confessions: 1)The title put me off reading this book initially. Fussy, I know. 2) It took a good third of the book for me to get into it, but once I did, I was hooked. It made a post-London party delay at a lonely Ashford station pass much more quickly. The premise, composer Oskar goes to LA to get divorced, while his friend looks after his flat, sounds unpromising, perhaps, but the novel is about so much more than that.

The Care of Wooden Floors has not received as much attention as some of the other Waterstones 11 titles; many, myself included, have raved about The Age of Miracles, and The Lifeboat has also had some good reviews. But there is something both very precious and fragile about any debut novel which makes me, as a bookseller, blogger and reader, want to take them under my wing, nurture them and offer them up to my customers lest they be forgotten.

However, The Care of Wooden Floors is infinitely unforgettable. Essentially a tale about two friends, one seemingly perfect and successful, the other failing to make any mark on the world, its protagonist remains, like Rebecca, unnamed, as does the Eastern European city in which the novel is set. This gave the book a certain unnerving element: we neither know who this character is nor where he is. Moreover, it adds to our impression of his utter helplessness to stop events at Oskar’s flat from spiralling completely out of control.

As I said at the start of this review, The Care of Wooden Floors is not an easy book in which to lose yourself: or not initially, at least. Wiles’ style is fairly wordy, and although the book takes place over the course of only eight days, at times it can feel like longer. Yet there is an ever-present level of Schadenfreude running throughout the novel which soon makes reading it hard to resist. From the wine which claims the precious, eponymous wooden floors, to the appalling piano mishap (read it to find out what I mean!), we surely prickle with joy rather than sympathy at his misfortune. Many have judged the appalling series of events at Oskar’s flat to be mere slapstick, but they become sadder and more sinister as the novel progresses.

What I loved most about The Care of Wooden Floors is that Wiles shows us the pointlessness of perfectionism. For Oskar’s tidy apartment, ironically, is sold in the end, and his nameless friend, who becomes obsessively perfectionist himself for a while, is shown to be more likeable than Oskar will ever be, despite his haplessness.