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Housesit book review: ‘Care of Wooden Floors’ by Will Wiles

A grand piano in a classical apartment housesitting assignment

The piano at the housesitting assignment

Housesit book review – ‘Care of Wooden Floors’

This housesit book review reveals how there has always been a mysterious and yet powerful link between reading and travelling and now housesitting.  They all three make for a great partnership especially on a housesit. It’s not just about filling the hours of a long journey or being occupied in periods of waiting. A good book takes your mind to someplace new, into something unfamiliar, as much as travel does to the physical body. A good book will never let you down when there is no wifi connection, when you are alone, or when all you need is to sink quietly into your own imagination. A gripping story can illuminate a foreign situation like nothing else. All of this makes books the ideal match for house-sitters. For the bibliophiles among us, I have compiled a varied list of books and we have begun a HouseSitMatch Book Review as a regular post to share them with you. Books make the best companions for house-sitters both new and experienced. I hope that you, the reader, can learn something new and unexpected from this housesit book review about yourself through them, as much as you do through participating in house-sitting.

 

Photo of front cover of a paperback copy of the 'Care of Wooden Floors' by Will Wiles

‘Care of Wooden Floors’ by Will Wiles

What makes a home for both owner and housesitter?

In 1923, the highly influential architect Le Corbusier wrote that a house is a machine for living in. A house, in fact, is a complicated thing made up of interacting parts, each with a function – a bed for sleeping, a kettle for boiling water, a shower for washing, etc. – which, all working together, act as a kind of large machine that we use and live inside. It’s a strange thought, but one worth thinking about for many reasons.

As any house-sitter knows, it takes time to learn how someone else’s house works, again just like a machine. They need a skilled operator to operate as they should. Even after a month or so the house-sitter is still learning where the cooking utensils and spices are kept, how the oven works, what the flashing lights on the dishwasher mean, and how to find the most comfortable spot on the couch. Maybe what makes a place a ‘home’, rather than just a house, it is having an intimate knowledge of how it works and what arrangements suit the humans and the pets best. It certainly makes more sense than simply being where the heart is. The narrator, and main subject of this housesit book review gives us some insight.

The housesit planned to inspire Will’s narrator

So what, you keen readers of the HouseSit Match blog might ask, does this have to do with anything? Architecture and interior design might not seem like the most relevant topics for house-sitters and home-owners, though reading Will Wiles should convince you otherwise. His short novel follows the house-sit of a writer looking for inspiration in the Eastern European apartment of his friend Oskar, a renowned composer with a deep love of beauty. With an entire luxury apartment and two rather spoiled cats to take care of, the writer is presented with an ideal opportunity to immerse himself in his work and re-ignite the creative spark in a new and exciting setting.

Yet Oskar the homeowner’s apartment is a finely tuned machine. Everything has its proper place and not even dust is allowed to settle on the expensive, highly stylish furniture; the extent of organisation here is almost unbelievable, and the host is perhaps the most fussy homeowner imaginable. During his stay the housesitting narrator discovers notes all around the apartment containing advice, directions and, most often, the rules (please do NOT play with the piano… please wipe all stains IMMEDIATELY). Keeping the place in a pristine condition, however, proves to be an immense task that begins to go wrong very quickly.

 

A house is a machine for living in (credit: https://www.instagram.com/tommeci/)

A house is a machine for living in (credit:  https://www.instagram.com/tommeci/)

Will Wiles author and architect on housesitting

Wiles himself is an architect writing about the connections between home and the owner. He understands that the home is a mirror of the person that creates it. So too does he understand what it is to find yourself alone and responsible for such an intimate space, an altogether different and wildly complex machine. House-sitters will recognise the tension between wanting to relax and feel at home but simultaneously knowing that because as in this case everything must be kept in order and preserved in a specific way for the homeowner, they seldom truly feel at home. Not that this is a negative fact. This responsibility can, in fact, be a great help in building up a sense of trust and respect to carry forward. Not to mention its appeal for digital nomads.

Oskar’s perfect apartment turns out to be quite the opposite for the writer. Through a series of thoughtful, funny, and earnestly written events, this home-machine proves a little too much for him to handle. The title ‘Care of Wooden Floors’ refers to the expensive French oak floorboards in the apartment that Oskar values so much. His love and appreciation of beauty is expressed through his home environment. The accidental staining of them by the house-sitter echoes Edgar Allen Poe’s short story ‘The Tell Tale Heart’ in the way that guilt beats ever louder the more it is repressed. It is a clever way of showing the value of honesty instead of hiding the evidence of damage or rule-breaking. As the plot develops and accidents pile up, we get a glimpse into the mind of the house-sitter, how they will go to any means possible to make sure things are left in a good condition, and how much loyalty they afford the host. By the end, an accurate portrayal of the house-sitting mentality is achieved, if done so in an unexpected way.

Even though Wiles presents an extreme example of a house-sit and the potential risks, there is much truth here about how it actually feels to be a house-sitter, giving a unique perspective that is rare to find in any other novel. Whilst it is a story of incidents of a sort, it is only through them that the real theme here is reached – a person trying their best to live in another’s world, putting the effort into learning how another person’s domestic machine works. It isn’t always possible, but if anyone could adapt to a home so easily then that home wouldn’t be so personal and special to the owner, which is what makes it such an important place to protect in the first place.

‘Care of Wooden Floors’ is only a short novel. It’s an excellent subject for our first housesit book review. It could quite easily be read over a week house-sitting at a casual pace. The hopes and fears of the housesitter flow through the story, along with all the excitement of being in such a privileged situation. The drama increases right up to the conclusion which is unexpected, and which deals with housesitting in its most unconventional form. Place and person meet face to face. We are left feeling that the machine might have a mind and life of its own.

Cat resting his chin on the piano keyboard - housesit book review

Cat and piano

Housesit book review – Best quote in the book

“People say that it is difficult, disorderly, to live with cats. I have never found them troublesome. People are the source of all chaos in life…”

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To start your housesitting adventure or to find your housesitting solution register with HouseSitMatch:

To register as a House-sitter follow this link

To register as a Homeowner follow this link

 

NickCaley
Nick Caley is a recent Anthropology Graduate of the University of Manchester in the UK. As an observer of his own generation he writes about trends and ideas, as a keen traveler and new house-sitter he shares his thoughts on the world of housesitting from an anthropological perspective.

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