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Appleby House

by Sylvia Smith

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Appleby House Sylvia Smith
September 2003

Warning: No matter how much you wind up loving Sylvia Smith's new novel Appleby House, do not attempt to explain the story line to friends.

Unless, of course, you love receiving blank confused stares.

Appleby House-the true story of a house rented out in 1984 London that involves such exciting things as cooking, cleaning, rearranging furniture, paying for bath water, secretarial work…and well, not too much else.

Don't be fooled! This short 160-page novel is subtly enthralling, and, despite it's completely boring story, it is almost impossible to put down. Smith's characters, the six different individuals inhabiting the house, are routed so firmly in reality it's almost like reading an account of any random group of roommates. Her matter-of-fact style avoids verbose unnecessary descriptions and instead resembles your average diary, which might explain the voyeuristic pleasure that accompanies such a simple story line. She doesn't attempt to be humorous or witty, or create a dramatic climax to the book. At the end of each chapter you will be left wondering when it's going to start "getting interesting," but the book will never leave your hands.

The only real drama consists of small wars over loud music, hot bath water, clotheslines, and whose turn it is to change the roll of toilet paper. Usually consisting of less than five pages, each chapter was written in such a way that it could be separated from the rest of the novel and survive on its own. Smith has created a collection of roommate survival vignettes, some naturally funny, many naturally ordinary, and all completely readable.

Appleby House should be commended for being such a unique piece of literature, an everyday account of the slight difficulties of human existence without ever venturing towards embellishment and never coming near over-sentimentality. It never tries to wow you or win you over, but somehow it captivates with utter divine normality.

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