A plain-Jane year in the life of a single woman in London, told with deadening restraint.
In chapters the size of postage stamps, Smith (Misadventures, not reviewed) tells of her year living in an East End bed-sit. The circumstances are the stuff of everyday: three other women live in the house; the gas, electric, and hot water are coin-operated; boyfriends are not supposed to spend the night during the week, but one is in permanent residence downstairs; her floor-mate plays the TV and stereo much too loudly, and the other residents consider her a “selfish cow.” In an easy voice conspicuous in its flatness, Smith tells readers, “the toilet was an absolute disgrace,” and, “living next to Laura made life unpleasant and I considered what to do about it.” What she does is meekly mention the volume, and Laura tells her to shove off. There is much parrying and thrusting as they seek to drive one another mad, though Smith keeps an even—not to say bland—keel while relating events. A neighbor leaves the dog out too long and it cries, bath water is nicked, the rota of toilet paper renewal is often forgotten. The author goes out dancing occasionally, or to a bar, but is more often found in her room with tea and television. There is an awful lot of talk about laundry, and readers’ heart monitors may well be flat-lining at the artless placidity of it all. Smith expresses no yearning, no introspection, no ups and downs. Even her rare fits of self-assertion are without inflection: “Each time I ran the bath I found it was rinsed but not cleaned. . . . I cleaned the bath before I got in it and only gave it a quick rinse after I'd used it. That way we both faced a dirty bath.” Such is the drama of life with Laura.
For living-theater fans only.