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Appleby House

Appleby House

by Sylvia Smith

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Appleby House is Sylvia Smith’s delightful, refreshingly candid account of a year spent in a shabby bed-sit in1980s London’s East End.

Smith’s engrossing, understated narrative invests the story of shared living: shifting allegiances, cleaning negotiations, debates about whose turn it is to change the toilet paper (it’s


Appleby House is Sylvia Smith’s delightful, refreshingly candid account of a year spent in a shabby bed-sit in1980s London’s East End.

Smith’s engrossing, understated narrative invests the story of shared living: shifting allegiances, cleaning negotiations, debates about whose turn it is to change the toilet paper (it’s color-coded) and who’s been stealing whose hot water (50p buys 2 baths) with compulsive suspense of the highest order. As tensions build around Laura’s adamant refusal to turn down her music or pretend to care about what her housemates have to say, we find ourselves astonishingly addicted to the goings on in this tiny corner of the universe. In the most artless and amusing way, Appleby House thoroughly indulges our very human fascination with the day-to-day and the surprising, often inexplicable, behavior of our fellow members of the species.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Smith (Misadventures) uses short vignettes to paint a picture of the year she lived in a bedsit in 1984 London's East End in this peculiar, pointillistic memoir. Four women-Sylvia (the narrator), Sharon, Tracey and Laura-and Sharon's boyfriend, Peter, live in a near constant state of subdued battle as squabbles erupt over noise levels, who used up the hot water and who forgot to replace the toilet paper in the shared bathroom. The writing style echoes the simplicity of the lives of the residents of Appleby House, although the prose is frequently graceless and clich d: "She walked towards me," Smith writes of her housemate Sharon, "with a big smile on her face and greeted me with a cheery `Hi.' We were soon deep in conversation." Although the publisher calls this memoir "a very literary equivalent of The Real World," it lacks depth, and the writing keeps the readers at a distance. Smith thoroughly describes buying a used television, where she keeps her kitchen trolley and her amusement over the handprint her landlord, Mr. Appleby, leaves on the phone when he's fixing the house. Yet she uses broader strokes on weightier subjects, skimping on details: "Our personalities clicked," she writes plainly of one of her boyfriends, "but our relationship was spattered with rows." As the book unfolds, many of the chapters feel disjointed, as Smith reveals tiny, tantalizing glimpses of the characters' lives, but leaves them teasingly unexplored. When readers step back to see the whole, this memoir reveals not a picture of the characters, nor even the house itself, but the trivia of everyday life. (Sept. 9) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This low-key, autobiographical story of sharing a female-only bedsit (semiprivate apartment) in 1980s London is endearing in its lack of artifice but has none of the sauciness or naughtiness of other recent entries in the "feckless young woman" genre (read: Bridget Jones's Diary). Although the minutiae of daily life in close quarters form a charming core, the anecdotes are not always discerningly selected, and the amount of detail-the exact location of the shopping cart, the neighbor's dog's habits of elimination-is wearying. Smith also is simply not a talented prose writer; her dialog in particular is stilted. However, this is, overall, an affable weekend afternoon read. Most of those who have lived in similar arrangements will read it in one sitting, remembering their own wars over filthy toilets and loud music, the thrill of sneaking in the late-night visitor, and the friendships that can result from shared living. For larger public and dormitory libraries.-Terren Ilana Wein, Univ. of Chicago Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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 lifewith Laura. For living-theater fans only.
From the Publisher
“A hilarious and poignant little page-turner.” —Helen Fielding, author of Bridget Jones’s Diary

"A charming, funny book about coin-operated bathtubs and unmarried secretaries living in shabbily-furnished rooms. Someday, I should like to visit this strange alien planet called London."—Neal Pollack, author of The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature

“The East End minimalist is back. . .and again, against all probability, she draws us in, as if her book were a high suspense drama.”—The Observer (UK)

“Smith writes about mundanity with a deftness that can be startling. You end up turning the pages faster and faster, hungry for more...”—The Evening Standard (UK)

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Random House
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt


Both Sharon and Tracey admired my knitting. Sharon asked, ‘Could you make me a cardigan, please?’ ‘All right’, I replied, ‘but you’ll have to get the pattern and the wool.’

Hearing about this, Tracey asked me, ‘Can you knit me a sweater after that?’

‘OK,’ I replied, adding, ‘you’ll have to wait for it.’

One evening Sharon knocked on my door. She gave me a very complex knitting pattern and a bagful of red wool. I set to work on her cardigan. It was so complicated it took me far longer to knit than I had anticipated. I moaned to Tracey.

‘Forget about my sweater, then,’ she said, which I decided to do.

Sharon had made a very unusual electric lamp at college. It had a black circular base with black wooden columns supporting a silver colander, which opened and closed to reveal an electric light bulb inside. If you preferred a dim light you simply closed the colander. If you wanted a bright light you opened the colander as wide as possible. The colander was made of tin with a design cut into it, making a pattern on the walls when in use. I liked it so much I said to Sharon, ‘Will you make me a lamp like that while I’m knitting your cardigan?’

‘Yes, of course I will,’ she replied, adding, ‘this one has a cream cord attached to the plug. When I make your one I’ll make sure the cord is black, but it’s going to take a week or so for me to do it.’

I finished Sharon’s cardigan and gave it to her. She was really pleased with it.

‘How’s my lamp getting on, Sharon?’ I queried.

‘Oh, it’s coming along nicely, but it’s not quite finished yet,’ she replied.

Two weeks later I asked about my lamp again, this time to be told, ‘It’s nearly finished now.’

A few evenings passed by. Sharon knocked on my door. She said, ‘Here’s your lamp, Sylvia. I hope you like it.’

‘Thank you,’ I replied. ‘It looks really lovely.’

I closed the door as Sharon went down the stairs and I looked at my lamp. I thought it was beautiful, but it had a cream cord instead of the black one Sharon had promised. I told Tracey.

She said, ‘That lamp is Sharon’s original one. She told me she just couldn’t be bothered to make another one.’

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Meet the Author

Born in east London to working-class parents as the Second World War was drawing to its close, Sylvia Smith ducked out of a career in hairdressing at the last minute to begin a life of office work. She slowly and completely accidentally worked her way up to the position of private secretary. She is unmarried with no children. A driving license and a school swimming certificate are her only qualifications, although she is also quite good at dressmaking. Misadventures was published by Canongate in 2001. Appleby House is her second book.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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