An Almost Charming Memoir of a Year in a London Bed-Sit


Monday, 8 a.m. I am awakened by the shrill sound of the doorbell. Opening the door, I notice a foul smell in the hallway, like raw sewage mixed with burnt bacon. In his rush to escape the stench, the FedEx guy drops a Jiffy bag on my foot. I rip the parcels open like a Christmas present, only to find a book called Appleby House by Sylvia Smith.

Tuesday 2 p.m. I finally settle down to read Appleby House, having spent much of the day hand-picking lint off the rug and re-stocking my mousetraps. This slim paperback turns out to be the memoir of a rather uneventful year Smith spent in a London women-only boardinghouse. Appleby House looks suspiciously similar to Smith’s 2001 debut, Misadventures, a series of deadpan vignettes documenting the 50 years of her ordinary life, hemorrhoids and all. (Apparently she left out the bed-sit stuff, cannily anticipating that Misadventures would be a huge hit in the U.K., leaving publishers begging for more.) I remember that first book mainly for its forgettability, and for the British publisher’s anti-publicity campaign: “Bridget Jones with the fun taken out.” Who says there’s no truth in marketing?

Tuesday 4 p.m. It took me two hours, but I finally finished Appleby House. Almost charmed by Smith’s tenuous relationship with her fellow roommates, her plucky attitude to housework, her poise in the face of the world’s perpetual disregard for her. Almost. Smith plays the straight man perfectly, but there are no punchlines to be found. The biggest drama is that one roommate plays her music and TV too loud. So Smith buys her own TV, and sometimes the two watch the same show on opposite sides of their shared wall. Any enjoyment generated by the reader is accidental, based on false expectation that something exciting might happen soon.