I can't really articulate what it is exactly about this book that I love, but I thought it was a terrific little read. It's the mid-80's and a then 38-year-old Sylvia Smith moves into a small furnished room in a house in east London. Her housemates include Sharon, an art student and her boyfriend (shhhh--he's not supposed to to live there); Laura, an odd, seemingly angry, single thirty-one-year-old woman; Susanna, a twenty-something woman and her teenage sister (shhhh--the sister's not supposed to live there, either); and Tracy, a twenty-four-year-old woman recently separated from her husband. Smith recounts her year living in the house and describes the dynamics between the residents. Everyone hates Laura and Laura hates everyone else. From the weird aspects of the house (putting change not only in the telephone, but the bath heater and kitchen stove as well); to Mr. and Mrs. Appleby, the sweet, older couple who own the house, Smith entertains the reader with her simple life in a house that, is a lot of the time, anything but simple. Smith's writing style is straightforward and draws one in immediately.
There's just something charming about this book. It's a super-fast read, but hard to put down. It wasn't anything that I expected at all--I'm thinking London in the 80's: a lively, rocking house with lots of punk, parties, drinking, and drugs. With the exception of a few glasses of wine mentioned, none of the above made an appearance. To me it seemed more like the setting was the 50's or 60's rather than the 80's. But the drama makes up for the missing drugs and rock and roll. And the cozy feeling of the book made it worthwhile.
Smith's memoir is plotless but not without art. Her vignettes of life in a bed sitter in a corner of London are a bit reminiscent of Helene Hanff's memoirs of life in a New York apartment.
Simply written, yet engaging vignettes about a London bedsit in the 1980s. If you have ever shared a bathroom with strangers, this will sound familiar. It was striking to me how much our material lives have changed (i.e. how much more stuff we all own) just since the 80s.
This book is like "reading" a reality TV show about the residents of Appleby House. I've now read all of her published works, and would recommend "Misadventures" to be the best place to start if you're new to the author, although here she continues to make the mundane details of her very ordinary life ... compelling.