Book Review: Care of Wooden Floors – Will Wiles

Oskar has OCD. A severe case of OCD. He is a successful composer living in an unnamed Eastern European city with his two cats and his wife. Right now he is in LA in the midst of a divorce, entrusting his old university friend to look after his pristine apartment, feed the cats, and LOOK AFTER THE WOODEN FLOORS. This book is about that friend; the unnamed English narrator.

It appears that Oskar has left his apartment in the hands of someone he doesn’t have faith in, ‘mapping out disaster scenarios in his mind and writing notes to cover the possibilities.’ He seriously does leave lengthy, instructive notes EVERYWHERE, even in the most unexpected of places, like amongst a stash of porn underneath his bed (You should respect my privacy. But I expected you to poke about a bit. See: we are all human. Clean up after yourself. Oskar). And it is through these notes and the actual apartment itself that you learn so much about Oskar; a man who values precision and order:

‘People say that it’s difficult, disorderly, to live with cats. I have never found them troublesome. People are the source of all chaos in life.’

So what could possibly go wrong, you say. Well just about everything.

Right from the start, the reader is certain that something bad is going to happen, that the narrator is going to mess things up in some way, but we’re just not sure quite how, and this sets up the tension that remains for the duration of the book. And sure enough, once things start to go wrong, they appear to just spiral out of control, from bad to worse, taking on almost farcical proportions.

As much as Oskar may have annoyed me with his pedantry, I was even more annoyed at the narrator for his carelessness and lack of foresight. I just kept putting myself in his shoes, and despite me also being quite an untidy person, found that I would not behave in the same way that he had. This really got me thinking about our personal spaces as humans and how they really define who we are. Much of who Oskar is is reflected in the minimalist precision of his apartment, whilst the mouldy walls of the narrator’s London flat tells you most of what you need to know:

‘A room is not just a room. A room is a manifestation of a state of mind, the product of an intelligence. Either conscious or unconscious. We make our rooms, and then our rooms make us.’

This book is as much about floors and space as it is about friendship. The friendship between the two men isn’t a natural or easy one, and is certainly not one based on mutual interests. As events unfold in the apartment and ‘an isolated tragedy’ almost becomes ‘a campaign of wrecking’, we come to understand that this may not be a friendship that can be saved:

‘I like that he seems to like me despite the fact that there’s no reason he should like me; at least, no reason that I can see. You know, he makes me believe I have likeable qualities. And maybe that’s what I do for him. I think that mutual reassurance is probably a big component of all friendships, really.’

The book is laced with dark humour and did have me chuckling to myself on occasion though I have to admit that as I progressed through the novel, I reached a point where I just wanted the book to end. I grew quite impatient with all the highly detailed descriptions and just wanted to know what would happen in the end. Though I was blown away by the language in some of his descriptive passages, I would have gladly exchanged those for some actual plot on occasion.

This is quite an accomplished novel for a debut, and the interesting twist at the end of the book keeps the whole thing quite fresh and original. I’d definitely be interested in seeing more from Will Wiles.

Too Many Books

I’ve developed a (bad) habit where I constantly buy books, both old and new, and don’t quite get round to reading them. My bookshelves have long been too full for new company, so these new books now sit in piles around my bedroom floor. I sometimes thumb through them and dream of one day actually reading them. I hate it when life gets in the way of a good book. I have to get my reading on.

Source: MGW Pics 3D


Just in case, like me, you just open without a care in the world, now you know it’s spine suicide. You’ve been killing books your whole life and the authorities are closing in on you. However, no one will hold it against you if  you don’t spend 10 whole minutes opening the damned thing and just read the bloody book. As they say, f*ck it.

How to Open a New Book….by those who’ve had the time to research

In Cold Manipulation

The award for the most self-centred, arrogant **** (I realise there are numerous four letter insults out there, so feel free to insert as you feel appropriate) must certainly go to Truman Capote. I suppose we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead but, having watched Capote (starring Philip Seymour Hoffman) the other night, I was really repulsed by the picture that was built of this legendary writer.

Photo: Irving Penn

I read In Cold Blood almost ten years ago, randomly picking it off the library shelves without being fully aware of who Capote was and that this specific title is considered to be one of the American Greats. I just thought the story was quite interesting and was going through a ‘criminal minds’ phase. I should probably clarify that my mid teenage years were not spent devouring Great Novels and philosophising about the morals associated with obtaining a Subject for one’s next work of literature over a glass of red. I drank coke and watched The OC all day (Seth and Summer 4eva, haha).

With hindsight, this show really was a pile of sh*t

I’m sure you all know the story surrounding In Cold Blood so I’m not going to dwell on that, except to say that Capote chose to write a non-fiction novel based on the murder of a family in a small Kansas town. He soon developed a relationship with the two murderers  (Perry Smith and Richard Hickock) once they were caught ( I, personally, don’t believe all that nonsense about Capote having a romantic/sexual relationship with Perry), and proceeded to plow them for information so that he could write his book. The book was not completed until after the killers had been executed; their death necessary for a tidy finish to a book that took years of research to complete.

Is the sacrifice of a human life required for the next Great American Novel to be written? I mean, how far can writers be allowed to go in order to produce good work? I’m probably being a little overdramatic, but when someone’s death is required for you to satisfactorily complete your novel, then surely something is not quite right. To allow these people to trust you and then swiftly deceive them, purely as a means to your own end, does not sit right with me. But where do writers go for story ideas these days? (We know journalists in the UK hack phones, haha).

The killers were indeed killers, there’s no mistaking this, so should I be overly concerned about their well-being or the way in which they were treated when they obviously had little concern for the well-being of the Clutter family when they murdered them?

The years surrounding In Cold Blood were arguably the most important in Capote’s life. It’s difficult to determine what led to his alcoholism and eventual demise. Why was In Cold Blood the last piece of good work he produced?

Ultimately, I appreciate that Capote is indeed a film, that there’s obviously creative licence and it makes for a better film if he’s portrayed as an a**hole. I haven’t carried out extensive research to establish what is true and what isn’t, but what I did find was not conclusive. I did, however,  find this interesting interview with The New York Times where Capote talks about his writing process, how he defined a new genre, and how amazing he generally is. He will probably always be a mysterious character and will be talked about for years to come. I just needed to vent because that film just made me so angry, but the truth will hopefully be clarified one day so I can determine whether he really was either the unintrusive author or the manipulative opportunist. Or both.

Of Malcolm Gladwell, the Mystery of Mustard, and the Singular Reign of Ketchup.

I’ve never actively thought about ketchup. I frequently put some on my burgers, less frequently so on my fries (more of a ‘on the side’ kinda girl when it comes to fries or better yet, just plain salted), have maybe moved into the more complex world of barbeque sauce in recent years just to switch things up a bit, but have never really sat down to think exclusively about ketchup. It is just ketchup after all. And I can honestly say I never buy ketchup for at-home use. But then Malcolm Gladwell can really get you thinking about things that you wouldn’t normally spend more than a minute (if even that) contemplating otherwise.

What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell

I bought a copy of his book, What the Dog Saw, from a second hand bookstore a while back and have dipped into it on occasion, randomly reading one of his many essays originally seen in The New Yorker.

In his essay titled ‘The Ketchup Conundrum’ he states how mustard now comes in dozens of varieties and asks why ketchup has stayed the same. He tells the story of Grey Poupon mustard and how it managed to claim a large segment of the market from French’s through clever advertising, thereby opening the door to variety in the mustard market.


He then tells us about Jim Wigon, an entrepreneur peddling his World’s Best Ketchup brand, hoping to achieve what Grey Poupon did. His aim was to build a better ketchup and he attempted to do so with six different flavours. Sounds good in theory, not so hot in practice.

Gladwell then gives us some background information in the form of a food tester and market researcher called Howard Moskowitz. Moskowitz conducted some ground-breaking research for the food industry back in the 70s. When working with Pepsi and Campbell’s, he discovered ‘the plural nature of perfection’. By this he meant that there was no one perfect spaghetti sauce, for example, that would appeal to everyone. Diversification was the answer, a way to cater to different tastes. This might not sound particularly ground-breaking to you and I today, but back then, the food industry worked around the idea that there was a single product that tasted perfect.

Another thing that Gladwell talks about that I found particularly interesting was that information collected from regular focus groups where consumers are asked what it is they want from a particular type of product, is not to be trusted: ‘Moskowitz does not believe that consumers[…]know what they desire if what they desire does not yet exist.’ Apparently our minds are limited and we have to be told what we like, or maybe we’re just dishonest. Gladwell illustrates this idea with a very good coffee example in the video I’ve posted below.


So when we come back to Wigon and his World’s Best, we see that he was ultimately exercising the Moskowitz theory but not selling enough to make even a marginal difference. World’s Best is one of dozens of gourmet ketchup brands that struggle. Yet Heinz Tomato Ketchup continues to grow year after year, never really tampering with their formula or bothering to experiment much (I’m not going to go into depth about taste perception: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami because that’ll prove to be rather lengthy). I found these two taste tests that were conducted between American ketchup brands and interestingly, Hunt’s  and America’s Choice came out on top. Never tried Hunt’s so can’t really comment, but they still trail way behind Heinz in terms of market share. What is it about ketchup that makes it an exception to the Moskowitz rule that we now see being used for pretty much everything that can be bought in a supermarket? 

I don’t know how long ago this article was written, but thought, surely things have changed now. Actually, I’ve just checked, it was 2004, and I’d like to think that consumers are now more sophisticated and more willing to experiment with different flavours etc. The emphasis on food has changed; it plays a much bigger part in our lives than it used to. The abundance of cooking shows and different dining experiences have turned every John and Jane Smith into a food critic. Food has become an entirely sophisticated affair and people are more discerning.

I’m not quite sure when this shift occurred, but I remember something a friend of mine was telling me earlier this year. She was saying how her priorities had changed quite a bit in recent years. She’ll go to a restaurant and not think twice about spending £30 on a meal, but a few minutes later, she’ll find herself in a clothing store and spend almost half an hour deliberating on whether to spend £10 on a top before ultimately deciding it wasn’t worth it. And as she was saying this, I realised how true this was for me too. I’d mindlessly spend £20 on a gourmet burger and sides (served with a slightly advanced ketchup, I’m sure, haha), and then agonise over a £4 necklace. Food has become more important to us. No more shopaholics, but foodaholics. I realise that there are still a very large number of people out there with a shopping problem, but I’d like to think that the Food Phenomenon is slowly catching up.

Photo: Julia Bainbridge,

So what was my point again? Yes, the ketchup. To introduce an element of luxury to the most unsuspecting things has become very common now. The most basic food items have been spruced up and so ketchup must follow. And it has. Sort of. This obviously meant that I had to now find out what ketchup flavours were out there. Not an awful lot of variation from Heinz in the UK (they have chili/fiery chili, Indian spices, and balsamic vinegar) and no other brands came up when I Googled ‘gourmet ketchup’. So it seems when push comes to shove, people will always opt for plain old ketchup, plain old Heinz. But WHY??

The essay concludes by quoting Moskowitz: “I guess ketchup is ketchup.” Do you agree? Like coke is coke (Pepsi is just NOT the same, do not even get me started!)? And can you think of anymore ketchup flavours that have made it into the mainstream?

If you’d rather listen to Malcolm talking about some of these ideas, I found this video equivalent on He’s a really engaging speaker.

So it’s nice to occasionally stray from fiction. And it turns out you don’t even need to buy the book because the article can be found on his website.