Will Wiles - Kafka updated to the 21st century. An anonymous motorway hotel is transfigured into a literal hell in this paranoid satire. The Shining as reimagined by J.G. Ballard.

Image result for Will Wiles, The Way In: A Novel,
Will Wiles, The Way Inn: A Novel, Harper Perennial, 2014.


Up in the Air meets Inception in this smart, innovative, genre-synthesizing novel from the acclaimed author of Care of Wooden Floors—hailed as “Fawlty Towers crossed with Freud,” by the Daily Telegraph—that takes the polished surfaces of modern life, the branded coffee, and the free wifi, and twists them into a surrealistic nightmare of infinite proportions.
Neil Double is a “conference surrogate,” hired by his clients to attend industry conferences so that they don’t have to. It’s a life of budget travel, cheap suits, and out-of-town exhibition centers—a kind of paradise for Neil, who has reconstructed his incognito professional life into a toxic and selfish personal philosophy. But his latest job, at a conference of conference organizers, will radically transform him and everything he believes as it unexpectedly draws him into a bizarre and speculative mystery.
In a brand new Way Inn—a global chain of identikit mid-budget motels—in an airport hinterland, he meets a woman he has seen before in strange and unsettling circumstances. She hints at an astonishing truth about this mundane world filled with fake smiles and piped muzak. But before Neil can learn more, she vanishes. Intrigued, he tries to find her—a search that will lead him down the rabbit hole, into an eerily familiar place where he will discover a dark and disturbing secret about the Way Inn. Caught on a metaphysical Mobius strip, Neil discovers that there may be no way out.

Content With Content: Lee Rourke & Kit Caless On Will Wiles' The Way Inn

“I devoured this impressive and enthralling novel. If you ever explored hotel corridors or played in hotel lifts as a child, be glad it wasn’t in this hotel.’ - Alison Moore

Kafka updated to the 21st century.
Neil Double has an unusual profession—he’s a conference surrogate, so he spends his life substituting for those who either cannot attend or are not interested in attending conferences. While his life is not carefree, he is able to revel in the relative anonymity of lobbies, hotel rooms, canned music and superficial social encounters. His particular favorite place to stay is a chain of nearly identical hotels called “The Way Inn” (like Double’s name, a self-conscious pun), and the latest conference he’s attending is with Meetex, a conference about…conferences. Trying to drum up some business, Double has a conversation with a Tom Graham, eagerly explaining how conference surrogacy works, but it turns out that Graham is actually Tom Laing, event director of Meetex. Laing then publicly rails against conference “pirates” like Double who attend conferences on behalf of others and whose “doubling” can actually replace several other attendees and thus hurt business. Double feels he’s been had, especially once he returns to The Way Inn and finds out his conference pass has been voided, so he can no longer access his room or the bus that ferries conferees to the MetaCentre where the Meetex conference is taking place. Double finds out how quickly he becomes a nonentity when he no longer exists through his laminated pass, and his attempts to “unvoid” his pass become both comic and surreal. Meanwhile, he’s trying to track down a woman named Dee, whose interest lies in photographing the abstract paintings on the walls in various Way Inns because “they are an approximation of what a painting might look like, a stand-in for actual art.”
Wiles has a guileful—dare one say wily?—intellect and provides a telling commentary on the emptiness of much of modern culture as Double and Dee find that The Way Inn has the same infinite structure of nightmare as Kafka’s Castle. - Kirkus Reviews

Once upon a time, space was a word that described the "out there". When we were still mesmerised by footprints on the moon, "space" was the immense everything beyond.
Today, space is enclosed within walls and defined by design. A "space" is the area into which humans are admitted: the stage of a theatre, the atrium of a City headquarters, even the interior of a car. This is designed space, an empty interface in which architects and lighting designers and sound engineers manipulate our moods and, more often than not, attempt to persuade us to buy something. It is the opposite of the beyond. The spaces we go into – renovated chain-pubs, ersatz pizza restaurants, gigantic shopping centres – are designed in Photoshop and approved by committees in ring-road business parks.
A chain hotel is the crowning achievement of designed space, offering a facsimile of domesticity in which we spend not just hours and minutes but days and weeks. In Will Wiles's second novel, The Way Inn, there is something very odd indeed about just such a place. Once you're inside a Way Inn, your location within the Inn is more important than the Inn's location in the world. You could be in Seattle or Stevenage or Srinagar. Inside the Way Inn, every experience is considered, every artefact customised – and authenticity comes a distant second to replicability. "A small sofa sat in the corridor near the lift, one of those baffling gestures towards domesticity made by hotels. It was not there to be sat in – it was there to make the corridor appear furnished, an insurance policy against bleakness and emptiness."
The action of the novel takes place in a particular Way Inn hotel opposite a conference venue which Wiles has artfully dubbed the Metacentre. Shuttle buses run between the Way Inn and the Metacentre, but these are only a temporary solution – a footbridge will soon connect the Way Inn with the Metacentre, such that the outside can be totally walled out, and the internal spaces can conjoin. So anticipated is this union that it becomes as laden with doom as a team-up between Godzilla and Mothra. We never learn where this hotel and conference centre are located because, as we will discover, it doesn't actually matter.
Wiles's protagonist Neil Double is a "conference surrogate" – a man who is paid to go to conferences on behalf of others, to collect the tote bags, attend the seminars, shake the hands and drink the warm prosecco at early evening parties. Double, as a man, is vaguely disgusting – vaguely misogynist, vaguely cynical, vaguely cruel – yet he possesses a certain hipster self-awareness. He enjoys the Way Inns, the conferences, the surfaces of his world in an archly self-referencing kind of way. He does not love, he does not feel. He is as artificial, in his own way, as the leatherette banquettes of the Way Inn itself.
The story of how Double's air-conditioned world of lanyards and buffet breakfasts falls apart begins as comedy before turning into something much, much darker. Wiles, a design and architecture journalist, has a magnificent sense of comic timing but also a handy way with sudden violence. As Double's life begins to unravel under the weight of new revelations, even a clock radio seems to develop an ominous consciousness.
In his first book, Care of Wooden Floors, Wiles turned the unintended destruction of an immaculate central European apartment into a metaphor for a certain kind of over-examined emptiness. That book was sly and funny – laugh-out-loud funny; two parts Eric Sykes to three parts Wallpaper magazine.
The Way Inn is Terence Conran meets HP Lovecraft. It is Bulgakov staged in the Tate, Kafka as a new Ikea furniture range. Wiles writes beautiful prose, stages exquisitely painful set-piece scenes of high comedy, and in Neil Double has created a John Self for the Marriott generation. The Way Inn is funny, clever and thrilling, its central conceit disturbing enough to demand that you read it outside, if you can. -  Lloyd Shepherd (The Guardian)

Horror fans often point to their genre of choice as an arena of literary risk, a genre that is marginalized because it dares to go further, to ruffle feathers, to penetrate into the psychological badlands that mainstream writers shy away from. All too often the opposite is the case. The heartland of generic horror is populated almost entirely by books that take no risks at all, relying instead on crash-tested shocks, tired tropes, and recycled scenarios to the point where generic horror literature has, somewhat bizarrely, become a literature of nostalgia. Which is why it is genuinely thrilling to discover a book that defies the clichés and charts an original course into new territory. To discover a writer who, instead of wheeling out the same tired leitmotifs, dares to imagine situations, worlds, textures that relate neither to the Victorian ghost story nor to the 80s horror boom but to the cultural and political landscape of our present reality.
Will Wiles is such a writer. His second book The Way Inn is such a novel.
If you've ever been bored out of your mind at a weekend business conference, yet felt you'd be losing brownie points with the management if you failed to attend, the protagonist of The Way Inn offers a service that might interest you. Neil Double works as a "conference surrogate." For a suitable client fee, he will go to the conference so you don’t have to. He'll attend presentations, hobnob in the bar, take notes, and present a full report, saving you both time and brain cells. For Neil, business is booming along with the meetings industry. And besides, he loves staying in hotels. The Way Inn chain in particular provides him with exactly that level of comfort, ease, and anonymity that makes his job pleasurable.
Of course I still have to deal with the rigmarole of actual attendance, but the difference is that I love it . . . I love to float in that world, unidentified, working to my own agenda. And out of all those generalities I love hotels the most: their discretion, their solicitude, their sense of insulation and isolation. The global hotel chains are the archipelago I call home. People say that they are lonely places, but for me that simply means that they are places where only my needs are important, and that my comfort is the highest achievement our technological civilisation can aspire to. (pp. 45-6)
What attracts Neil to the hotel environment is its disposability—a pristine and functional commercial ecosystem where everything is box fresh, where sex, business relationships, and even the room you stay in are all infinitely replaceable, forever evolving yet ultimately always the same. We join Neil as he arrives at a Way Inn on the eve of a conference at the knowingly named MetaCentre, part of a service complex at a newly completed motorway intersection. Neil settles into his room then buses across to the MetaCentre to register for the conference. He soon spots people he knows from previous conferences—a female executive whose name he can't quite remember (is it Rhonda or Rosa?), a bumbling and seemingly omnipresent business journalist called Maurice, and a red-headed woman whom Neil last spotted at an identical Way Inn in Doha, Qatar. It's business as usual, in other words. But not for long. Neil doesn't know it yet, but his anonymity—the part of himself he values most—is about to be snatched away from him. And the reassuring customer-first dynamic that makes Way Inns so attractive and so dependable looks set to be reversed. For Neil Double, this is the conference that will alter his worldview—permanently.
I don't want to say much more about the plot. One of the many joys of this wonderfully original and bitingly funny novel is the journey it takes you on—a journey down the rabbit hole into depths and vastnesses whose lurking presence you would never guess at from the book's deadpan opening. An equal and complementary joy is Wiles's writing. Fans of his debut—an addictive and hilarious exercise in Schadenfreude entitled Care of Wooden Floors (2012)—will not be disappointed. The clipped, polished sentences, the terse asides, the passive-aggressive dialogue—a delicious hybrid of Beckett and Ayckbourn—form a perfected topiary of understatement and irony that I'm tempted to say could only ever be the work of a British writer.
But like all the finest social comedy, The Way Inn is deadly serious. Will Wiles also writes as an architectural journalist, and his passionate interest in space—the living spaces we inhabit, the way we as human beings engineer space to suit our needs—is the guiding mantra behind both his novels to date. In The Way Inn, his evocation of Ballardian un-space—the business parks, flyovers, housing complexes, and conference centers that make up the post-urban environment—and its detrimental and increasingly pervasive influence upon our mass psychology contains some of the finest descriptive polemic on the subject that I have ever read: masterfully taut, unbearable in its exactitude, and deeply unsettling. Wiles is an expert in describing the bland, ubiquitous texture of spaces that are purportedly designed for everyone yet desired by no one, environments that mostly benefit the developers whose business could be described as levelling down, the rendering of natural landscapes to the architectural equivalent of recovered meat. People come a poor second to the automobiles that drive them in such environments, something Double learns to his cost when he attempts to cross a motorway slip road on foot:
I turned my head to see a pair of cars vectoring out of the orbit of the roundabout, accelerating into an escape velocity, aiming for me. The headlights were on—the weak, alien sun was gone. The lead car sounded its horn as I hit the stony shore on the far side of the ramp and the furious blaring note dopplered away behind me, ricocheting off the precisely formed flanks of the embankment. This was it—the far side, my destination, safety. Part of me wanted to sink to my knees in thanksgiving, but the ground—not pavement, just leftover dirt verge—was muddy and sown with litter and debris from the road. Cracked hubcabs and crisp packets, a coiled piece of clothing, blackened and pressed into the dirt by the rain. Clothes abandoned by the road always had a sinister air, suggesting sex crime or self-destruction, arising from the question of how they got there and who they had left unclothed. After a few moments to regain my breath, I trudged on. (pp. 159-60)
In the hierarchy of dystopian novels, The Way Inn is special because it accurately describes the dystopia we are already living in. Neil Double is even less of a natural rebel than Winston Smith. If you were to ask him at the start of the novel if he were content with his place in the scheme of things, his answer would mostly likely be an emphatic yes. The status quo suits him, because with his unconscious privilege, his airport lounge culture, and his atrophied emotions, Neil Double is the status quo. It is only chance—a small avalanche of minor catastrophes—that reveals to him that he is not in fact the consumer, as he believed he was, but the consumed. The revelation changes him, because it denies him the opportunity for passivity. For Neil Double, a voided bus pass is all it takes.
The Way Inn is a horror novel with something to say about the world we live in, and it is not afraid to use the language and imagery of the horror writer to say it. Indeed there are things here that remind me forcibly of Ramsey Campbell's malign cityscapes, of the singular kind of justice meted out in Thomas Ligotti's similarly black-humored My Work Is Not Yet Done (2002). Rather than dodging the issue of genre in the way of so many writers working primarily in the mainstream, Wiles appears to embrace The Way Inn's double identity with open arms. I was delighted to see this, partly because it’s so rare, partly because Neil's descent into the abyss is so much fun.
Whether the experiment is wholly successful is open to argument. Much as I applaud Wiles's willingness to engage honestly with genre, I actually find the more deliberately horrific final quarter of the book less frightening than the meticulous social realism that goes before it. There is a quality of staginess about the novel's climactic sequences that feels forced. A lack of depth in characterization—an issue that passes more or less unnoticed throughout the first half of the novel because the quality of Wiles's satirical writing is so unerringly high—steers the action unconvincingly toward melodrama. Above all, these final chapters seem less personal and therefore less resonant, and although I enjoyed the denouement I admire this novel most for what it does best—revealing the ordinary horror of day-to-day exchanges, the daunting oppressiveness of the neverlands that threaten to engulf us, the limitless purgatory of the call center:
I put the phone down on Fran's closing remarks. She was useless to me. She might as well have been a push-button answer tree. In five or ten years those jobs will be replaced by voice-recognition algorithms. Dealing with her wasn't going to get me anywhere, and it wasn't her fault. She was there to deflect awkward customers away from the company itself, not to deal with them. It was all an illusion; doors painted on to a solid facade. No central exchange, just a labyrinth of dead ends in which my complaint would be left to expire. (pp 124-5)
The Way Inn does what horror fiction is supposed to do: it tackles important subjects in an unexpected way, it finds strangeness in the familiar, and shows us that darkness lies closer to hand than we would like to think. It is also a stunningly good read. No matter this novel's flaws—we need more books like it. - Nina Allan

Wiles’ decision to construct his narrative upon a direct reflection of the contemporary world makes for a very powerful and architecturally-compelling commentary on the alienating habitat we live in
Let’s start with some hyperbole: The Way Inn is the first Gothic novel of the junior executive suite. The first loyalty-programme based horror story. The first literary work in which composite laminates are a central plot device. But if that’s not enough for you, read on.
It’s the story of a ‘conference surrogate’ − the appropriately named Neil Double. Double is a body for hire who represents clients at trade shows. He’s a besuited phantom-delegate haunting the vast interior worlds of places like ExCel collecting intelligence, attending seminars, even assuming the identity of his clients. He attends all the -Ex’s, the WebEx’s, PetEx’s, EmEx’s and so on so you don’t have to.
Double is an empty shell with a schizophrenic array of business cards whose life is spent in a low earth orbit of chain hotels, motorway interchanges and convention centres, free from the gravity of kinship. Imagine Clooney’s Up In The Air by way of David Brent.
Some of you may know Will Wiles’ byline from trade magazine Building. Or from glossy design magazine Icon where he was deputy editor. You may know him too from more esoteric publications − from Cabinet, Dirty Furniture. You may know him from essays that explore the cultural meaning of Hi-Viz. Or you may know him from his first novel Care of Wooden Floors.
But it’s in his second novel The Way Inn that Wiles’ biography synthesises into a whole. A difficult, unsettling and nightmarish kind of whole. A hole that opens up and you find yourself falling into.
It’s a book that comes from a grand but perhaps unique lineage. A family tree that includes William Beckford’s Vathek, HP Lovecraft, JG Ballard but also Rem Koolhaas, Martin Pawley and Reyner Banham. In fact, Wiles acknowledges Koolhaas’s stream of consciousness essay ‘Junkspace’ as the seed from which the novel grew. And from this Wiles infers that perhaps Koolhaas − at least as a writer − and Lovecraft might not be all that different.
But it’s also a book about the spaces of the 21st century − of transport infrastructure, chain hotels, conference centres and shopping malls. Places of giant scale and generic quality, places that feel edgeless, that go on for ever, about the kinds of things that happen in those places, the service sector, business to business networking, waiting and complimentary coffee. It’s a description of the banality and mystery contained in these places and systems. The fact that, as Koolhaas himself suggests in ‘Junkspace’, all architects may well find that they are working on the same gigantic, planet-sized building. Or Mark Fisher’s notion of Capitalist Realism, in which there is no escape from the infinitely self-reflecting feedback loop of the logics of the service economy. The Way Inn’s inversions of interior and exterior, of the world made up by multiple franchises of the very same place, suggests you can check in anytime you like but you can never leave.
The Way Inn is also a piece of design criticism en passant. It catalogues the kinds of spaces and objects we normally view in the half-light of inattention. The narrative is adorned with moments of almost technical descriptions of contemporary materials, those panels formed of multiple laminations, films of adhesive, sandwiched into things which look utterly synthetic − a plastic that looks like wood but behaves like metal for example. Abstract art hung on hotel walls whose geometries and textures are central to the plot. Hotel lobbies − ‘spaces to pass through, not spaces to be’. There are lengthy passages examining that strange breed of contract furniture that more often sits like a sculpture about furniture than is actually sat on. In all of this it recalls the microscopic description of Nicholson Baker, the close looking of Ruskin applied to things we are not supposed to really look at. Art that isn’t art, chairs that aren’t chairs, places that aren’t really places.
Through this seamless veneer of contemporary life, all soundtracked by the musakified ancient rebel yells, a New Aesthetic rift opens up. These are glitches with multi-dimensional properties, faults in the render, ghosts in the corporate machine that turn the spaces of smooth business to business transactions into vertiginous sheers in space and time. This is where the acres of contact carpet peel back to reveal the nth dimension space of the spreadsheets that create them. Wiles suggests that behind the sheen of practical and logical reality are invisible systems of infinite complexity. The chain hotel is, in other words, the tactile tip of a giant abstract framework whose own logic is invisibly remaking the world in its image.
To understand architecture, as Bernard Tschumi never quite said, we may have to fictionalise it. With The Way Inn, Wiles’s fiction gives us a key card that unlocks a vision of the very real world that we are already immersed in. It’s a vision that describes the full banal horror of 21st-century human habitat, the alienation we feel, dwarfed by the full force of the service economy even as it offers us a complimentary coffee. - Sam Jacob

“I loved The Way Inn, [which] strikes me as the first authentically post-Ballardian vision of the world as it has become and as it is going to continue to be…Will Wiles is a mature, expert and wonderfully original talent.” - Christopher Priest

When I was approached by Harper imprint 4th Estate and asked if I would like to review Will Wiles latest novel, ‘The Way Inn‘ I snapped up the chance. I’d heard of his début novel ‘Care Of Wooden Floors‘, and although I’d not had a chance to read it myself I was aware that his style -slightly surreal, comedic, thought-provoking – was one of my ‘go-to’ types. I was right, as what I sat down with was one of the smartest books I’ve read in a long time.
Neil Double is a professional conference attender -he’ll do it, so you don’t have to. He’ll attend the seminars, press the flesh, collect the leaflets and other various tat and junk; he’ll even attend the parties and have the meaningless, alcohol-fuelled sex for you. It’s all part of the service his company provides. But it’s at his latest conference, for people who organise conferences (a ‘meta’ conference if you will) that his work is discovered, and the big-wigs don’t like it one little bit. Thus begins Neil’s spiral into chaos, confusion, and disbelief as he realises that the life he considered as safe and reliable due to it’s conformity and monotony was far more complex than he ever imagined.
Told over the three days of the conference, and in three separate parts as opposed to chapters, ‘The Way Inn’ is a true ‘slow-burn’ novel, and anyone who’s ever had to attend these type of events will see themselves their fellow attendees mirrored beautifully in the first part. The queueing, the form-filling, bumping into those you’d rather avoid, and forgetting the names of the one’s you really should remember – it’s all here, and bitingly accurate. There’s one face that Neil is keen to find again, a mysterious red-headed woman, and when he does, she opens his eyes to what’s really around him and the action gets ramped up a notch.
Although Neil Double is a complete ‘nasty-arse’ human, Wiles has instilled in him an empathetic back-story that goes some way to explaining his behaviour, although never excusing it. I found this really important, as too often, poorly behaved male characters are often given a ‘get out of jail card’ by authors via a ‘troubled’ past, as if, now they are adults, they have no free-will. It’s lazy writing, and as you can tell from Will’s answers when I broached this subject, it’s something that he finds important too. All the characters in ‘The Way Inn’ are written with an air of mystery about them – you’re never quite sure of their true intentions and this keeps the plot buzzing along and completely unpredictable. Dialogue is a joy here as conversations, whether at the mundane conference or during the more complex scenarios, just flows seamlessly between the characters. At times, it’s as snappy as Mamet and Ellroy.
My only criticism is that there are points where the pacing flags a little, but they a momentary, and probably more a sign of my eagerness to get to the next plot reveal.
What Will Wiles has created here is a modern-day parable for the working drone – a wake-up call to the grey masses. Dig below Wiles’ fabulous turn of phrase and wit and you get a deeper message, one that encourages us to quit the endless box-ticking, stop standing in line and just be bloody different. If you like your novels to be witty, satirical, with fully-realised action scenes and a side-order of mind-bending sci-fi then I urge you to grab this. Just form an orderly queue.
Interview With Will Wiles
1. Your latest novel combines several genres, how did the idea of ‘The Way Inn’ come to you, and how did you then pitch it to the publishers?
I love hotels, and used to stay in them regularly back when I was deputy editor of an architecture and design magazine. Obviously I don’t want to give anything away to your readers, but the big twist in the story, the hotel’s big secret, was where the idea began: “What if there was a hotel that …?” and everything else followed. I don’t think or imagine in genres – does anyone? But the only way to realise the idea was to ignore genre boundaries, which aren’t really boundaries at all. The irony of course is that what makes it horror, or SF, is that I stay completely faithful to the real: this is really happening to the narrator, it’s not a dream, it’s not a hallucination, it’s not a metaphor or allegory or any other kind of sleight of hand. But in this case realism involves a very large excursion into the fantastical.
 I spared myself an awkward pitch to the publishers by submitting a completed manuscript, so they could see it as executed. I have no idea how I would have pitched it as an idea, although they did know a little about what I was working on – I described it as a completely modern gothic novel, a gothic novel shorn of all “gothic” props and set entirely and firmly in the world of wifi and branded coffee. And they were keen on that.
2. When you read the novel, you can’t help but think of other well known ‘surreal’ hotels such as ‘The Overlook’, and The Eagles ‘Hotel California’. How aware were you that readers may make those connections and did you try hard to avoid them?
Well, there’s no escaping The Overlook – either of them, the King Overlook or the Kubrick Overlook. Set a horror novel in a hotel and people are going to think about the Overlook. You can’t fight that and you shouldn’t try. So I acknowledge the Overlook in two or three subtle (I hope) ways. For instance our protagonist is staying in room 219 – not the cursed room 217 of King’s Shining, but next door. Because the Way Inn is definitely not the Overlook. The Overlook is old, the Way Inn is new; the Overlook is a one-off, the Way Inn is a chain; the Overlook is empty, the Way Inn is full of guests … and so on.
3. You’ve a background in architecture, how much of that came into play when writing?
It came into play a great deal. Gothic literature has a very close relationship with architecture, much closer than any other kind. It is all about setting and atmosphere – places that influence the people within them. As I write in the acknowledgments, an important seed of the idea was an essay called Junkspace by the great Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. It’s a polemic, a masterpiece of pessimism, about architecture disappearing in the mirrored, air-conditioned labyrinth of modern spaces: shopping malls, hotel, convention centres. He uses very baroque language, in a kind of stream of consciousness, talking about formlessness and chaos, “no walls, only partitions, shimmering membranes frequently covered in mirror or gold”. In form and style it could be an HP Lovecraft short story, but it isn’t, it’s architectural theory.  Which just goes to show that if you want to write realism nowadays you should be writing horror. 
4. Do you share your main character Neil’s fondness for identikit chain hotels, and if you did, how much of a chore was it researching them?
I am fond of them. They are generally very clean. They do not impose themselves on you, so they instil a sense of freedom – which, as I explore in the book, could be dangerous if taken to extremes.
5. Onto Neil, he obviously has some issues with his parents, especially his father. How important was it to instil this sort of back-story into your main characters arc?
Neil is a pretty repellent character and I thought it was important to show a little of how he became that way. He has become a kind of toxic algorithm in a mid-price suit and if that’s all you know about him he’d be just too unpleasant. Seeing his background doesn’t excuse him, but it does explain him.
6. It’s hard not to empathise with Neil as he gets more exasperated, but he does come across as a bit of a misogynist. Much like his ‘Daddy-issues’ was this to make him seem more human in that ‘drone-filled’ setting?
He is a misogynist, at the start of the novel anyway. A misanthrope in general but definitely also a misogynist. In the disposable, endlessly refreshed environment of hotels he has liberated himself from all social restraints and acts pretty much as he pleases. There are no consequences because tomorrow will be another hotel, another conference, everyone different, no one remembering. His actions appear to have no lasting repercussions. But that is what drives the early stages of the plot: he realises that he is not as forgettable as he would like to be, that people remember him, that he leaves a lasting trace. Ultimately it is a story about a man learning that other people, women, are human beings as well. Which, God knows, more men could afford to learn.
7. Your novel has a lot to say about the bland conformity that seems to be sweeping over us, yet Neil relishes in it, almost yearning for it when things start to get just a little bit ‘different’. Do you think that’s endemic of a lot of the working World?
We have, as a species, invested a lot of time an energy reshaping a great deal of our planet’s surface into these hypermodern spaces, with not much real discussion about that. And literature in general treats them very dismissively. But these places have their pull, their mystique – of course they do. I think that might be where the action is, our heart of darkness. But I don’t want to write some Nietzschean fantasy about the individual triumphing over the herd – our hero is that triumphant individual at the start of the book, and what a ghastly little shit he is. I am asking the Ballardian question – what if we immerse ourselves in this element, and swim.
8. ‘The Way Inn’ has been described as ‘Kafkaesque’. Is he among your influences?
Yes although not as prominently as some might think. More at a remove, via Mark Fisher’s wonderful book Capitalist Realism, which puts modern capitalism in a Kafkaesque frame. When I quote Kafka, unacknowledged, in the book, I’m quoting Fisher quoting Kafka.
9. I can see ‘The Way Inn’ being (wrongly) promoted towards male readers. What do you think would ‘sell it’ to women?
I hope that Dee – the mysterious “consultant” Neil encounters at the start of the book, and then spend half the book searching for – has some appeal. Dee is no Gothic victim, damsel or accessory but an utterly confident, independent and capable character. She is also determinedly not a “love interest”, nor at any point directly saved or redeemed by Neil. She has her own thing going on and Neil’s primary contribution is to monumentally fuck it up.There may also be some amusement in watching Neil have what he imagines to be a consequence-free one-night stand spectacularly backfire in a very public humiliation, and the evolution of his character in general. But I don’t want to get too tied up in gendered appeal. The Way Inn is a satire, a mystery and – as it unfolds – something of a thriller, and I hope that’s appealing to everyone.
10. Finally, what’s next on your agenda in the way of future novels?
I am working on something else but I don’t want to say much about it. However, after two novels set in strongly fictional locations, the third is set in London. - Kate ifthesebookscouldtalk.com/2015/01/30/the-way-inn/

“You can check out any time you want, but you can never leave.”
Never has a quotation been as appropriate to a book as that above to Will Wiles’ second novel. Yes, the lyric is from the Eagles’ Hotel California, and the novel is about a hotel with a particular allure – more about that later!
Wiles is an interesting young novelist. His background is in high class journalism for architectural and design magazines. His first novel Care of Wooden Floors, while ostensibly being a high-class farce about the perils of flat-sitting for a friend with new blond wooden flooring, also showcased his eye for design and attention to detail in home furnishing (albeit in a minimalist style in this case).
In The Way Inn, he turns his attention to the über-bland styling of hotel chains – styled so as not to offend and to be easy to clean. Everything in the room is designed for purpose – consider the light fittings…
People often choose a hotel room as the place to end their life. Did you know that? It’s a consideration in the design of the light fitting, and some of the other aspects of the room, although not one we’d admit to. Maybe they do it because they know the body will be found, it won’t rot undiscovered in a one-bedroom Docklands flat. So the hotel becomes an ante-chamber of the morgue.
Yes, this book is that dark! But before we get there, we need to meet Neil Double, the narrator of the novel, and to find out what he does for a living. Neil is a ‘professional conference-goer’. He spends most of his days in lofty exhibition halls, researching markets and new products, attending seminars. Having been to a good few conferences and exhibitions in my time in scientific and health & safety fields, I can assure you that they are generally 99% boring and only 1% interesting. (I can’t comment on the London Book Fair though – I’m sure I’d enjoy that!)
You instantly think that he must be employed by the big conference organising firms or the chains of venues – but no, his job is far more subtle than that. Neil’s sales pitch to a potential customer goes thus:
What if there was a way of getting the useful parts of a conference – the vitamins, the nutritious tidbits of information that justify the whole experience – and stripping out all the bloat and the boredom?
Neil is a conference surrogate. As he says: ‘I go to these conferences and trade fairs so you don’t have to.’  What a fascinating idea. He has to be very discrete though – what if his company was rumbled by the organisers?  It’s bad enough bumping into people like the annoying Maurice that you’ve met before at the exhibitions.
Neil lives out of a suitcase and is a habitué of the anonymous conference hotels that a built in a symbiotic relationship with the exhibition halls – with shuttle buses and all that. He’s fond of the Way Inn chain of hotels in particular and the one thing he loves more than anything else about is the ability to have a long hot powerful shower whenever you want.
Negotiating the hotels’ bars and restaurants during big conferences is less fun though. Wiles writes tellingly about all the businessmen and women searching for free tables at breakfast time – how true!  Neil might end up having Maurice sitting with him again.  But if you always use room service, you’ll never meet anybody interesting, and Neil is musing whether this conference is the one where he might see a certain red-headed lady again.
It so happens that he will meet her and get to talk to her this time as she photographs the abstract paintings on the hotel walls. All the paintings are similar, yet different and it seems she’s mapping them – finding your way back to the lifts in these huge hotels with corridors that all look the same can be confusing …
Up to this point, the novel was concerned with setting the scene for the conference and hotel business, picking at the habits of business people away from home placed in this ersatz, rather alien environment.  It was a slow-burn read so far, but then something strange happened – Hello!
The book began to take a sinister turn – and then each time I thought I was getting the measure of what was happening, it did something else unexpected.  It was seriously messing with my head and it became precisely the kind of mind-bending book that really intrigues me.  A kind of understated horror crept in; I was getting echoes of Mark Z Danielewski’s House of Leaves – but with beige carpets and well-lit halls.
I don’t want to spoil any of the secrets of The Way Inn for you, but should you embark on reading this novel, don’t let the low-key start bog you down. You can relish Wiles’ acute observation and love for his special interests whilst you prepare yourself to be bamboozled and thrilled in equal measure by what is to come.  If his first novel was a farce, and his second touches the realms of darkness, I can’t wait to see what his third will be about! - Annabel Gaskell

What’s It About
A creepy and dark novel about reality bending motels and business conferences.
Representative Paragraph
The “conference surrogate” is probably the greatest idea ever invented in all of literature.  (Hyperbole intended!!!!)
“I meant,” I said, “why are you here at the conference? Aren’t there places you would rather be? Back at the office, getting things done? At home with your family?”
“Aha,” Tom said. “I see where you’re going.”
“Conferences and trade fairs are hugely costly,” I said. “Tickets can cost more than two hundred pounds, and on top of that you’ve got travel and hotel expenses, and up to a week of your valuable time. And for what? When businesses have to watch every penny, is that really an appropriate use of your resources?”
“They can be very useful.”
“Absolutely. But can you honestly say you enjoy them? The flights, the buses, the queues, the crowds, the bad food, the dull hotels?”
Tom didn’t answer. His expression was curious—not interested so much as appraising. I had an unsettling feeling that I had seen him before.
I continued. “What if there was a way of getting the useful parts of a conference—the vitamins, the nutritious tidbits of information that justify the whole experience—and stripping out all the bloat and the boredom?”
“Is there?”
“Yes. That’s what my company does.”
Should I Read It?
Most definitely yes.  The first half of the novel is stronger than the second half, but this is still a very good, and at times, very creepy book about a chain of motels that are far more than what they seem.  In addition, Wiles satirical approach to trade fairs – seriously the conference surrogate is a brilliant and entirely cynical idea – is both true and funny.
You should also check out Nina Allan’s excellent review of the novel on Strange Horizons.
Science Fiction conventions aside, I’ve been to my fair share of industry conferences.  The one’s I’ve attended have generally been held in Melbourne and so I haven’t needed accommodation.  But on the rare occasion I’ve had to travel interstate, I’ve found staying in a barely adequate hotel – the public service doesn’t shell out for five-star comfort – coupled with attending a conference that could redefine our very understanding of boredom, as a less than satisfactory experience.
Which is why the first half of The Way Inn resonated with me, especially Wiles description of the conference scene as an abattoir and the attendees sheep heading for the slaughter.
Ahead of us, and already around us, were the exhibitors, in their hundreds, waiting for all those eyes and credentials and job titles to sluice past them. There is the expectant first-day sense that business must be transacted, contacts must be forged, advantages must be gleaned, trends must be identified, value must be added, the whole enterprise must be made worthwhile. Everyone is at the point where investment has ceased and the benefits must accrue. A shared hunger, now within reach of the means of fulfillment. Like religion, but better; provable, practical, purposeful, profitable.
Neil Double, our slightly douche protagonist, is aware that this almost religious euphoria, this “shared hunger” ultimately wears off.  What remains is just another dull conference where you spend your time sitting through mind numbing panels about OH&S reform and make small talk with people whose names you’ve forgotten but who you vaguely recognise from the last trade conference you attended.  It’s this overwhelming sense of ennui that Neil takes advantage of.  As a conference surrogate his job is to attend these trade fairs on your behalf, taking copious notes at each panel so you’re provided with the content minus the ratty hotel or getting drunk at another sponsored dinner.
And Neil absolutely loves his job, viewing it as what he was born to do.  Part of it comes from the “pervasive anonymity” and the ability to “float in that world [of trade conferences] unidentified working to my own agenda,” but mostly it’s the hotel experience that provides true job satisfaction.  Specifically, Neil’s love for hotels and motels stem from:
their discretion, their solicitude, their sense of insulation and isolation. The global hotel chains are the archipelago I call home. People say that they are lonely places, but for me that simply means that they are places where my needs only are important, and that my comfort is the highest achievement our technological civilization can aspire to.
It’s this very bubble of comfort and anonymity that’s about to be popped.  First off, one of the organisers of the trade fair Neil is attending tricks him into revealing what he does for a living and then calls Neil out during a panel presentation.  Following this embarrassing moment, Neil is no longer allowed to attend the conference.  So not only is he no longer anonymous, but he can’t do his job.
And second off the Way Inn starts to turn on him.  Most of this is wrapped up in Neil’s reunion with a woman who he last saw at a Way Inn motel in Qatar.  The thing is… well I’ll let Neil explain what happened:
She walked in and… Well, she wasn’t wearing anything. She just stood there, completely naked, eyes wide, like she was standing to attention. She didn’t say a word at first, but within about ten or twenty seconds everyone in that lobby was looking at her. Total silence. I have never heard anything like it. And then the staff at the front desk went crazy. They started shouting at her, running about, trying to find something to cover her up. Obviously Qatar’s an Islamic country, very conservative—I mean, there would have been a commotion anywhere.
Neil second meeting with this woman, the night before the conference, involves a strange conversation about the banal art that adorns the walls of the Way Inn.  Neil spends the first quarter of the novel hoping he’ll bump into her again, but it’s only when he’s kicked out of the conference that he finds himself caught up in the woman’s ongoing battle with the management of the Way Inn.
Dee, for that is her name, is a great character.  Neil objectifies her from the get go, describing  “her Amazonian height, and her pale skin and red hair” as “not quite match[ing] up to reality, as if she was too high-definition.”  But what I enjoyed is how Dee constantly reminds Neil that their partnership is not going to end in sex.
The look on her face was grim. “Do you remember our little talk? About fucking? About how it’s not going to happen?”
“That is not where this is going. My problems”—she widened her eyes at the thought of those problems, and I wondered what they could be—“are not going to be solved by your penis. Just back off.”
I also liked how Dee is the one who know’s exactly what’s going on with the Way Inn, who understands the dangers posed by the hotel management.  It’s Neil own insecurities and weaknesses that ends up getting them both into trouble.
And what trouble would that be?  Well, through Dee we discover that the Way Inn – or the entity controlling it – has a found a way of using motels as a means to extrude and impress itself on our reality.  So each motel in the chain forms a network, a body that’s constantly growing as each new Way Inn is built.  This is a fantastic idea and at least for the first two thirds of the book Wiles makes the most of it by having Neil note small changes in geography, rooms and corridors reconfiguring, and even travelling with Dee between different nodes – moving from one Way Inn to the next.
It’s a shame, then, that Wiles feels a need to introduce a villain about halfway through the book.  Having now finished the Southern Reach series by Jeff VanderMeer I know that the creepy and scary can be maintained without the need for a meglomaniac with an evil plan.   And yet, as noted above, Dee is battling against the hotel management, personified by Hilbert.  He reads like a character who’s walked directly out of a Stephen King novel – I’m thinking Leland Gaunt in Needful Things or even Randall Flagg from The Stand – a Faustian figure who is well spoken and erudite and yet doesn’t entirely fit into his own skin.  He’s pithy and dangerous and predictable.  As a result the last third of the novel goes from creepy hotel reconfiguring reality to a dull and predictable battle between Neil, Dee and Hilbert whose over the top villainy sucks all the scares out of the novel.
Still, while the last third might be disappointing, it didn’t entirely undermine my enjoyment of the book.  That first half in particular is both laugh out loud funny – there’s a love note to the hotel shower that had me in tears – and genuinely unsettling as the true nature of the Way Inn begins to reveal itself to Neil.  If I wasn’t spending the next who knows how long reading award shortlists then Wiles would be an author I’d be actively following. - Mondyboy

Based on other online reviews I've seen, I can understand why Will Wiles' The Way Inn might not be everyone's cup of tea -- some people might find it a little too silly, others a little too pointless, and both these arguments are fair if you're going into the book determined not to like it. But I, on the other hand, ended up loving it quite a bit, and that's because the book is a successful combination of several different major influences: it's partly like a Douglas Coupland novel (in that it's a highly intelligent sociological breakdown of generic suburban hotel chains, and what their blandness says about us as human beings), partly like a JG Ballard story (in that this blandness is the inspiration for an existential horror story concerning our narrator hero, a professional attendee of corporate conferences who basically freelances his body to other office workers, delivering reports on what they missed and posing as them at such conventions' many meet-and-greet events), and partly like a David Lynch movie (in that this existential horror ends up having a very real science-fictiony explanation behind it, which without going into detail is kind of like a haunted-house story meeting quantum physics), all of which is meshed together in this beautiful way by Wiles so that each of the elements compliments the other, not clashes against them. In fact, there's really only one major criticism to be made of this fast-paced, always interesting book, that several of the scenes near the end suffer from what I call "Clive Barker Syndrome" (that is, on paper such scenes come off as okay, but would look ridiculously cheesy and cartoonish if anyone ever tried actually filming them); but if you can live with a climax that will sometimes make you roll your eyes a bit, the rest of this sharp, insightful novel will be right up the alley of Lost fans and the like, a philosophical look at our modern world that doubles as a pretty effective genre thriller as well. - Jason Pettus

In his first novel, CARE OF WOODEN FLOORS, Will Wiles did something I'd previously thought impossible; he made me care deeply about the removal of a wine stain from the floor of a meticulously modern apartment. From this simple accident Wiles spun a masterful, complex contemplation of order and chaos, of favors gone awry and friendship strained by human frailty. It was a tale told with equal parts humor and horror and, remarkably, it kept me turning pages well into the night.
Thus it was with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation that I approached Wiles' sophomore effort, THE WAY INN. Would this novel measure up to the oddly high bar set by its quirky predecessor? The answer became obvious in the first few pages. I was checked into THE WAY INN every bit as securely as Wiles' less-than-noble protagonist, Neil Double. I didn't have to like Mr. Double, I only had to believe I was seeing the world through his eyes and this I did with ease. Through Double I found myself contemplating the mundane, the relentlessly packaged, processed, economically engineered, corporate approximation of refuge, the modern chain hotel.
One of Wiles talents as a storyteller is his ability to amplify the contrast levels in his tale to extreme levels while still retaining the reader's belief. We smile at the absurdity, but we buy into it. Neil Double is not just a bland business traveler, he's a PROFESSIONALLY bland business traveler. He's a conference surrogate, he goes to business conferences so other businessmen don't have to. And the conference he's attending in this tale? It's the conference of conference organizers. The conference, of course, is being held at the MetaCentre.
In lesser hands this tale of the bland and boring could certainly be bland and boring, but Wiles has an eye for the odd and a strong sense of the absurd. Neil Double is soon a victim of misadventure and chance encounter. A mysterious red-haired woman has pointed out something odd about the abstract paintings that populate the rooms and hallways of THE WAY INN and by the time the mysterious and sinister hotel executive Mr. Hilbert appears, Mr. Double is deep into a thriller that could give Alfred Hitchcock a severe case of vertigo. And if Rod Serling turned out to be the night manager of THE WAY INN, I would not be the slightest bit surprised.
But THE WAY INN is surprising, odder than you can imagine unless your name is Ray Bradbury, Neal Gaiman or Will Wiles. THE WAY INN is a masterful metaphor for an age where corporations are people and people are cogs in machines we too often ignore. But THE WAY INN is more than metaphor, it's a fun story. Neil Double has a problem, it's easy to check into THE WAY INN. Checking out is something of a nightmare.
But don't let that deter you. I checked out 343 pages of THE WAY INN and I'm not quite sure I've left it yet. But it is time very well spent. I'm weary, wiser, and more than willing to buy whatever the next tale is that Mr. Wiles will choose to tell. - Kent Peterson 

What Gogol was to Russia in the nineteenth century, what Mallarmé was to France in the twentieth, and what David Foster Wallace might well be to America in the twenty first, so JG Ballard is to England: a gaunt and charismatic spectre, intent on provoking its writers out of negligence, complacency, banality, sloth. It seems the ghost is succeeding, quietly. Since the 1990s, a number of literary figures have appeared in England whom we might collectively term the Ballardians or the post-Ballardians, among them philosophers such as John Gray and Simon Critchley, critics like Mark Fisher, novelists like Will Self, Tom McCarthy, Lee Rourke, and now Will Wiles. Of course, this a very diverse list of names – not in terms of gender or ethnicity, for sure, but in terms of talent – yet every one of them, in different ways, can be seen as emerging out of Ballard’s overcoat, or out of his crushed automobile fender, or his semen-hued motorway embankment, or whatever the appropriate metaphor may be. In defiance of England’s notorious middlebrow norms, these writers turn away from class-anxiety and family and identity and all the rest of it, choosing instead to explore and to map our glamorously inauthentic modernity, described by Ballard in his celebrated introduction to the French edition of Crash as “a world ruled by fictions of every kind.”
And, for Ballard – a proponent of utopian, avant-garde architecture – one of the privileges of living in such a world was beholding the weird spectacle of its built environment. In a 2003 interview, he revealed that his favourite building in London was the Heathrow Hilton, an enormous “white cathedral” of glass and concrete at the edge of the airport park.Most hotels,” he said, “are residential structures, but rightly the Heathrow Hilton plays down this role, accepting the total transience that is its essence, and instead turns itself into a huge departure lounge, as befits an airport annexe. Sitting in its atrium one becomes, briefly, a more advanced kind of human being. Within this remarkable building one feels no emotions and could never fall in love, or need to.”
Surely Will Wiles (an incisive architecture critic himself) had Ballard’s words in mind when he wrote the following lines, from his n novel The Way Inn. Neil Double, his enigmatic protagonist, is sitting in the lobby of a mid-range airport hotel. He draws a great deal of Ballardian pleasure from the bland surroundings, and tries to figure out why:
True, it was a space to be passed through, not a space to really be in, to inhabit or somehow make significant. Not a place to labour or decide or worship or build or fall in love, or whatever acts we are supposed to perform in other, more authentic places… There was value to deliberately forgettable environments. They were efficient, spiritually thrifty, requiring little heed and little mindfulness. They were hygienic in that way; aseptic. Nothing from them would linger on you.
Double knows all about “deliberately forgettable environments”. He is a “conference surrogate” by profession, i.e. he is paid by large corporations to attend dull, expensive, out-of-the-way conferences and expos so they don’t have to; he collects the tote bags and branded USB keys and a few days later they collect his report. This of course means enormous amounts of time spent travelling between corporate hotels and convention centres, motorways and airport terminals, those smooth grey structures at the edges of towns which Marc Augé has unforgettably called “non-places.” Despite the uniformity of his destinations, Double doesn’t seem to dislike his job in the slightest. Indeed, he is something of a connoisseur of the hotel; a flaneur of its artificially-lit corridors; a poet of its climate-controlled rooms, with their ‘latte-coloured’ carpets and their views of gridded nothingness beneath clouds of ‘muesli-milk white’. Like any good ironic hero, he is half in love with the thing he is supposed to despise.
The first of the book’s three sections, entitled ‘The Conference’, follows Neil as he makes his way between his hotel and the adjoining conference centre, brooding along the way on such topics as hotel architecture, hotel staff, hotel furniture, hotel art, and hotel breakfast buffets. Here, as in Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island (perhaps this novel’s intellectual sibling), we are presented with what amounts to a series of sketches and riffs, centred on a certain kind of globalized capitalism. Yet McCarthy’s novel, for all its brilliance, ultimately suffered from an age-old flaw, it was devoid of structure. Without a central metaphor to sharpen its eye, without a Jamesian circle to give form to the action, the whole book ended up feeling like no more than a very long and very clever blog post, with all of a blog’s virtues, and all of its capacities for getting nowhere. Wiles, on the other hand, is sensible enough to focus his considerable observational powers on the titular hotel and its surroundings, and to allow broader truths to emerge, as it were, naturally. Rich comic attention is paid to lifts and corridors and key-cards and showers, to the deadening drone of Muzak and the eeriness of eternally smiling receptionists, to finely tended “meditation gardens” that are really just smoking areas. Much of Section One works by a process of accumulation, each perception building on from the previous one, amounting to an impressively coherent survey of a “temporary city” which delights in its own falseness, which fetishizes the personal and yet remains fundamentally inhuman.
On the welcome screen in his room, for instance, Neil is greeted by “a stock photo of a group of Way Inn staff, or models playing Way Inn staff”. Later, he reflects on a cuboid chair standing in the corridor: “It was not there to be sat in – it was there to make the corridor appear furnished, an insurance policy against emptiness and bleakness”. A piece of bland abstract art on his wall is not really a painting but merely “an approximation of what a painting might look like”. This last phrase is wonderful, I think. Notice how he doesn’t say “what a painting looks like”, but, instead, “what a painting might look like”. The point here is not that the painting isn’t “real”, but that it doesn’t need to be: in the hotel’s miniature cosmos, the bland laws of consolation and comfort triumph over all.
Gems like this are what give the first section of The Way Inn its stimulating and peculiar glow. Wiles’s eye for space and architecture is consistently superb. He is very good on the ways in which interior design can be used to manipulate, the methods by which a bit of cheap “atmosphere” can be summoned (as with the chair that nobody sits in). This is Wiles-the-critic at work, prowling the half-lit hallways with his nose out, sniffing for hints of bullshit, and coolly, smirkingly, taking notes on whatever bullshit he happens to find. Elegantly weaving together his array of intellectual precedents – from Ballard to Augé, from Fredric Jameson (who wrote of the Westin Bonaventure in LA that it “aspires to being a total space, a complete world, a kind of miniature city”) to Mark Fisher (whose book Capitalist Realism posited that “capitalism now seamlessly occupies the horizons of the thinkable”) – the author’s project is spacious enough to include traces of Gaston Bachelard’s thought, the doyen of modern architects whose 1958 book The Poetics of Space explored the dialectical relationship between “the house” and “the universe” in terms which correspond to the Way Inn’s epigraph, from Jorge Luis Borges: “The house is the same size as the world; or rather, it is the world.”
Wiles-the-novelist, however, is a far less sophisticated creature. He can suffuse the inanimate with wonderful colours, but in other, arguably more important aspects of this novel, he remains as greyly unsatisfying as the world he is parodying. His characters don’t do anything except give Neil an opportunity to rant (and Neil’s rants about people, unlike his rants about the hotel, are entirely uninspired) or serve to accelerate Wiles’ convoluted Twilight Zone-esque plot. There is the ‘mysterious’ woman Neil keeps seeing in the bar – who eventually acts like a kind of Trinity figure (from The Matrix, I mean), or like Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in Inception. She exists only to guide Neil, and by extension the reader, through the absurd, byzantine rules and exceptions that characterize the book’s final-act swerve into the paranormal. Though he is supposedly in love with her – and no convincing evidence is ever given for why he might be – she does nothing remotely charming or funny or thought-provoking. All she does is say ridiculous things like “As well as not being your fuck buddy… I’m not your therapist or your babysitter”, and, later, to clarify “Do you remember our little talk? About fucking? About how it’s not going to happen?” This, we begin to suspect, isn’t even a parody of Ballard’s notoriously wooden dialogue, or of vulgar movie-talk – this is just bad writing. Wiles’ description, a little later, of a shadowy management figure being hit by a chair, clearly intended as a shocking moment of violence, is in fact a catalogue of genre clichés: “Dee swung the chair out from under the table… and brought it down on Hilbert with the sum of her strength… the blow was sickening… he buckled and bent over… and emitted an animal roar” The sum of her strength, the sickening blow, the animal roar: This is what it happens when you draw your most important lessons from Baudrillard rather than Beckett, from Jameson rather than James, when you value theoretical matters above human matters. As it turns out, good writing always occurs at the confluence between talent and intelligence. Wiles definitely has the intelligence, but over and over again in The Way Inn, his poor dialogue, his off-the-shelf characters and his barren prose accentuate a lack of that other crucial quality.
The author’s incompetence in human matters becomes awfully clear as the book goes on. There is no other word for it – incompetence. Twenty years ago, it might have seemed the case that a novel of this kind, taking shots at capitalist logic and corporate blandification, establishing characters who didn’t feel real because they weren’t meant to be real, digressing freely about this or that aspect of late capitalism – it might have seemed that such a novel couldn’t do all those things successfully while also at the same time containing a true and compelling and unironic emotional centre, but David Foster Wallace, in Infinite Jest, and again in The Pale King, and in many of his longer stories, proved that it could be done, and gorgeously so. Unlike Wiles, Wallace was a born novelist, who spent a lifetime inveighing against the postmodern tendency to underplay or dismiss feeling, and he was gifted enough to bring real feeling into a postmodern form. Wiles, though, can’t do feeling, and he usually resorts to feeling’s ugly twin – sentimentality. This is evident in Neil’s forced and unconvincing ‘love’ for Dee, the woman who likes to remind him she’s not his “fuck buddy”, and in a number – far too great a number – of tedious flashbacks to his parent’s divorce, tedious because they neither cast light on Neil’s character nor advance the story nor add any intellectual substance nor contain any passages of value or beauty – because they amount to precisely nothing in the end.
The book’s final revelation is a little predictable. We discover that all of the Way Inn’s hundreds of branches are in fact the same mega-hotel, connected via something like a wormhole (Wiles drops in some nonsense science to give his idea some veracity). In classic sci-fi/fantasy fashion (the same formula applies to time-travel and wizardry), the characters first have a bit of fun with this sudden freedom from physical law, and then, inevitably, they end up having to battle a villain of sort while seeking an escape back to normality. So it plays out. At first, Neil and Dee go for drinks in Way Inn Calgary, then Way Inn Doha, then Way Inn New Orleans. Over whiskies, Dee explains the hotel’s workings, telling us that it has a mind of its own, or something resembling a mind, and that it wants only to spread itself throughout the world. Its goal is total domination. Strangely, though, for such a theoretically literate writer, Wiles doesn’t spend much time exploring the psychological, philosophical, social and metaphysical implications of his conceit. One gets the uneasy sense that he doesn’t much care. He has presented us with this final admonitory image – the world is turning itself into a giant corporate hotel – and now he wants to wrap things up, defeat the bad guy (and there really is a plain, unambiguous bad guy, named Hilbert), and sign off.
Perhaps the supreme irony of The Way Inn is that it functions, aesthetically speaking, as a perfect inversion of the thing it describes. While the titular hotel is essentially a globalized non-space, hostile to the imagination and the heart, which happens nonetheless to be filled with real people, Wiles’ novel is the opposite. It is a fabulously real space, slick, ordered, gleaming, often beautifully furnished with interesting objects and seductive ideas, but it fails, in the end, because it is populated entirely by non-people, whose motives and feelings never convince us because they are non-motives, non-feelings. It would be tempting to believe this was intentional: an overarching structural game on Wiles’ part. But the abundance of contradicting evidence, all the clumsiness, the laziness, all the novel’s clichés of language and story, suggest that this isn’t the case, or couldn’t be. - Jamie Samson

 Your personal details aren’t the new currency, but they are the new price of admission.”
The Way Inn is an exceptionally well-written novel of acute observation and creative imagery in a world both real and surreal. Will Wiles succeeds throughout with prose that is imaginative and immersive, complex and compelling. Experience the moment as the narrator deals with his dry-cleaning: “I kept tearing at the plastic, pulling it down over the suit until it lay fizzing and crackling on the floor, tremoring with tiny, obscene movements like a deep-sea invertebrate dying on a beach.” Witness the common made extraordinary as a familiar stranger engages with her cell phone: “Whatever her name was, still plucking and probing at her phone, although with visibly waning enthusiasm, like a bird of prey becoming disenchanted with a rodent’s corpse.” Wiles is a writer—an architectural journalist by trade—who sees and hears; who feels and senses; a writer who detects and transmits.
His narrator, Neil Double, is not so smug that we dislike him, nor so secure that we wish him harm. But in his role as “conference surrogate” he is by nature a covert operator. He is a sneak. And like any sneak who moves among the sleepwalking masses of everyday life, he passes off observations as judgment, conclusions about the world around him that are just a little unkind, just a little uncharitable, just a little unflattering, if only because they are entirely true. He may see his fellow expo-goers in the blandest of light, but at least he has grace enough to laugh at himself: “…people like Phil—inoffensive, with few distinguishing characteristics and a name resonant with normality. The perfect name, in fact. Phil in the blanks. Once I put it to a Phil—not this Phil—that he had a default name, the name a child is left with after all the other names have been given out. He didn’t take it well and retorted that the same could be said of my name, Neil. There was some truth to that.”
Neil is no kinder in depicting the conferences he attends. In the present case he’s at Meetex, a conference for conference organizers (an expo expo!) at a place called—what else?—the Meta-center.  He describes trade shows as “Boring hotels, boring breakfasts, boring people, boring fucks, boring fairs.” He calls them—again with that imaginative prose— “Intervals of misrule… At their worst they resembled the procreative frenzies of repressed aquatic creatures blessed with only one burst of heat per lifetime, seething with promiscuity and pursuit.” Neil also reports the following clever minutia about the post-heat departure for those who attend: “Bleary-eyed, the attendees sat quietly on their planes and trains home, and opened their wallets not to buy more drinks, order oysters on room service or pay for another private dance, but to turn around the photos of their kids so they once again face outward.”
Say what you will about the well-worn path of narrative ennui toward one’s profession, Wiles’ canvas is filled with dramatic color and finely-tuned detail, with a special eye for falseness and duplication. In fact, his narrator doesn’t despise his job. To the contrary, Neil takes great pleasure in living amid the pampered delight and easy cleanliness of the conference-set business hotel. He loves what he does because it is a conquest over a scrimping childhood. Wiles sketches this backstory with merciful sparseness yet depth enough to make us care about the past that made him who he is— mother v. father in a tight-budgeted upbringing. The world of Neil’s past is woven inextricably into his present: “Expenses—another word freighted with adult mystery. Expenses, I knew, meant something for nothing, treats without consequences, the realm of my father; a sharp contrast to the world of home, which was all consequences.”
Not far from the mid-point, the narrative shifts to the surreal, tracking more closely to a Paul Auster nightmare. The nightmare form increases, worsens dramatically, growing to consume the novel’s original, more realistic form, in its entirety. In this way, the structure of The Way Inn mirrors the setting itself. A hotel—an unspecified Way Inn branch outside an unnamed city in some unnamed part of the world—that presents itself as one thing, and soon becomes another.
The bottom drops out for Neil when he explains his role as conference surrogate—“to be there, so you don’t have to”—to Laing, the man behind the Meetex conference. In other words, the man with most to lose from Neil’s ambiguously treacherous profession. He’s banned from the conference for a breach of “terms and conditions”, though even in that we find levity: When Neil demands from Laing an explanation for having been “voided”, Laing replies, “We’ll find something… It’s all boilerplate legal stuff, there’ll be something that means what we want it to mean: inappropriate conduct, activities contrary to our commercial interests, abuse of intellectual property…to be honest with you, I haven’t read them.”
All that follows grows increasingly sinister. The novel, like the hotel, shifts its shape and marches toward eternity. No longer is Neil the Hunter—of one-night stands with forgettable women, of the red-headed Dee, of conference data for unknown clients—he has become the hunted. It’s no conceit to imagine The Way Inn on the silver screen, and when his nemesis storms the hallway after Neil, bellowing the word “Housekeeping!”—“feedback whine stripping the humanity from his consonants”—one can easily picture Jack Nicholson, axe in hand, grinning through a battered door in The Shining to declare, “Honey, I’m home”.
If you don’t attend trade shows for a living, you should read The Way Inn for a glimpse of the nightmare you’re missing. If you do attend trade shows for a living, you should read The Way Inn as a wake-up call from your nightmare. Reading this book felt like being caught inside a Rubik’s Cube in the hands of demons hell bent on destruction. -  Ben East

Prime among the reasons people pay the man who calls himself Neil Double to serve as their "conference surrogate"—someone who attends trade fairs in their stead and relays the useful bits without the blather—ranks dodging tedium, a challenge also presented by the first half of this sardonic but wildly uneven sophomore effort from Wiles, author of Care of Wooden Floors. Things seem to start promisingly for narrator Neil as the young Londoner prepares his game plan for Meetex, ironically a conference for conference planners, at the monstrous new hinterlands MetaCentre and adjacent Way Inn. But then Neil is blindsided by the organizer's attempts to shut him down, And then by an even more ominous problem involving theWay Inn itself. At this point the novel morphs into a surreal Inception-like nightmare which has Neil and mysterious titian-haired temptress Dee fighting for their lives against the globe-spanning "inner hotel" and its ghoulish agent Hilbert. Wiles makes many spot-on observations about the ways in which environment can shape perception, as well as the blanding influence of branding. But the bloated story and largely cartoonish characters never really come together.  - Publishers Weekly

Care of Wooden Floors
Will Wiles, Care of Wooden Floors, Little A / New Harvest, 2012.

A witty debut novel about a housesitting gig gone terribly, hilariously wrong.
A British copywriter stays for a week at his composer friend Oskar’s elegant, ultramodern apartment in a glum Eastern European city. The instructions are simple: feed the cats, don’t touch the piano, and make sure nothing harms the priceless wooden floors. Content for the first time in ages, he accidentally spills some wine. Over the course of a week, both the apartment and the narrator’s sanity fall apart in this original and “weirdly addictive” (Daily Mail) novel.
As the situation in and out of the sleek apartment spirals out of control, more of Oskar’s notes appear, taking on an insistent—even sinister—tone. Care of Wooden Floors is a must-read for anyone who’s ever bungled a housesitting gig, or felt inferior to a perfectionist friend—that is to say, all of us.

British author Wiles’ first foray into literary fiction.
The narrator is a British writer of informational pamphlets who flies to an Eastern European city to care for the apartment and pet cats of an old college friend, Oskar, while Oskar flies to LA to settle his divorce. Oskar is a talented composer with an obsessive compulsive personality who leaves little notes all over the apartment for his friend. Some are merely helpful instructions, like where to find cleaning materials, and some are perceived as intrusive attempts at control. The title is a reference to a book Oskar leaves along with instructions to immediately clean up any spills on his precious wooden floor. Naturally, the first thing that happens is the narrator spills wine on the floor and is unable to completely eradicate the evidence. Among his various flat-sitting duties are the feeding of and cleaning-up after two cats. A note telling the narrator not to “play around with the piano” takes on more significance when he does play around with the piano and leaves the lid up while he goes out to attend a concert, gets drunk with a friend of Oskar’s, and then returns and finds one of the cats crushed under the fallen piano lid. This tragedy is part of a series of chaotic circumstances that drive the narrator into his own subconscious world of anxieties and self-doubt. The novel thereafter becomes increasingly frightening and suspenseful, and the ending is one a reader could not possibly have imagined.
If you are a fan of Kafka, you should enjoy this novel, which is reminiscent of The Metamorphosis.
Kirkus Reviews

"Thrilling, darkly comic disaster [is] lurking in every movement, wine bottle, and floorboard." —Daily Beast

"This novel has everything I look for: Line by line the sentences are a pleasure, page by page the story enthralls, and as a whole, the novel is expertly constructed, each precisely cut plank snapping perfectly into place. Clever, funny, creepy, atmospheric, and very entertaining. I realize that's a lot of adjectives, but read the book and you’ll see." —Charles Yu

"Funny, beguiling, and quietly profound . . . a wonderfully well-crafted debut.” —Times Literary Supplement

"If, like me, you've ever thought that your productivity and creativity would explode if only you could get organized, let this be a (morbidly funny) wakeup call….A precisely written debut from one who knows the value of letting loose." —Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"Guffaw-out-loud moments…married to the horrified recognition that provokes empathy. A very funny novel provoking schadenfreude and belly laughs." —The Independent

"Highly idiosyncratic, well-written, with a vivid sense of place–and weirdly compelling." —Michael Frayn

“One of the funniest and cleverest books of the year.….Care of Wooden Floors reads like a farce directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and the novel’s denouement will surprise even the most jaded readers.” —Washington Independent Review of Books

"One of the most brilliant and entertaining literary debuts this year. The precision of his language and the care with which he delineates the characters and their environment is nothing less than astounding." —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"This is a terrific first novel, written with a very engaging deadpan wit, and an understated sense of the absurd.” —The Times

"This novel feels like a blend of Thomas Pynchon’s Entropy, John Cheever’s The Swimmer, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell Tale Heart, and any of Robert Coover’s stories that push the limits of realistic actions." —North American Review

“This darkly humorous novel from U.K. journalist Wiles involves a nameless protagonist whose eight days of house-sitting turn out to be a lot more hassle than he bargained for. A freelance copywriter in London does his old university friend, Oskar, now a classical musician, a big favor by staying in his ‘nice flat’ located in an unspecified and dour Slavic city. Oskar is a ‘borderline obsessive-compulsive’ who leaves very specific instructions on a number of notes posted throughout the flat, including not only the care of cats Shossy and Stravvy, but, of greater importance, that of the expensive French oak floors. Oskar, in L.A. to deal with divorcing his wife, intends to return soon to his ‘island of perfection.’ Unfortunately, the befuddled protagonist is a hapless caretaker; he lets one of Oskar’s cats die (via piano lid) and, perhaps worse, he spills red wine on the floor. ‘Batface,’ the flat’s bellicose cleaning lady, is no help rescuing the precious floorboard. The narrator is pleased to find that Oskar has a ‘human’ side when he uncovers his hidden porn stash, but the maintenance of the wooden floors soon takes a horrid turn. A strikingly original debut.” - Publishers Weekly

‘It was a scratch and a minor stain. It was not a matter of life and death.” Thus the unnamed narrator of Will Wiles’s ingenious first novel, holed up in an anonymous Eastern-European city and four days into a week of entropically bad luck. Much worse is to come. Tasked with looking after the apartment of Oskar, an old university friend, the hapless English protagonist arrives among canals that seem filled with tar and buildings that resemble damp grey sugar cubes. Oskar’s flat is a pristine refuge, sparsely appointed with impeccable furniture, steel kitchen surfaces, intimidating art books and its owner’s gleaming (and fateful) grand piano. Oskar – musician, émigré, minimalist aesthete, composer of Variations on Tram Timetables – is in LA, getting divorced. The narrator has merely to obey the many notes his fastidious pal has left behind and all will be well.

By the fourth day, he has allowed one of Oskar’s cats (they’re named Shossy and Stravvy) to perforate the leather sofa and, more worryingly, has spilt red wine on the flat’s exquisite wooden floor. Things spiral from here, “on a vector of neglect, pointed at inevitable chaos”. A logic of slow-motion slapstick, with bouts of horror, takes hold. As the narrator notes, his story has something in common, in terms of manic sensitivity and underfloor secrets, with Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. Following a drunken night out with a local friend of Oskar’s, he accidentally offs a moggy with the piano lid and causes a second vast red-wine stain to flower on the kitchen floorboards. When Oskar’s cleaner turns up to survey the carnage, events take a more violent turn.
If Wiles’s plot sounds like sitcom stuff – Fawlty Towers as read, perhaps, by the pratfall-loving Freud of The Psychopathology of Everyday Life – be assured that Care of Wooden Floors offers other pleasures. They are not so much in the book’s wry thoughts on interiors (Oskar: “We make our rooms, and then our rooms make us”) as in Wiles’s deft and precise descriptive asides. In the opening pages, an airport arrivals hall is “a compressed wedge of brown neon, sweat and stress”. On his arrival in the city, trams “informed the air like the lowing of cattle”. In a flashback to student days, the narrator's Anglepoise lamp “shone cyclopically like the fire brigade lights at a midnight motorway catastrophe”.
Wiles is also a design critic, and his narrator (though he balks at Oskar’s paranoid refinement) cannot help casting the world in aesthetic terms. He shudders at the horrid typeface in Oskar’s porn magazines, and casts a cold eye over the unfortunate cleaner: “A life of poor diet and hard work had turned her into a huge callus.”
This tone does not always succeed. Stranded in a ruined post-industrial district, the bumbling hero strains to convince that an abandoned swivel chair truly looks like “a Dalek rape victim”. A section in which he bashfully excuses himself from a pole-dancing club feels a touch too close to touristic cliché. And an editor ought to have spotted the repetition, albeit reworded, of a reflection on the soothing tedium of 24-hour television news. But for the most part, Wiles’s farcical plot (in its essence, a staple since at least the days of silent comedy) is sharpened by his aphoristic asides. This is a smart and polished debut. - Brian Dillon

A certain Swedish furniture giant recently ran a TV ad in which dozens of cats went walkabout in a Wembley superstore. The implication seemed to be that nothing soothes the feline soul so much as the chance to rub up against Tofteryd TV benches and Poang footstools. Anyone resistant to the charms of either cats or blond wood interiors may want to steer clear of Will Wiles's debut novel, which prominently features both; but it's a nicely turned satire on the notion that the path to spiritual contentment lies in a pristine set of polished wooden floorboards.
Wiles's unnamed protagonist arrives in an unspecified East European capital armed with the keys to the apartment belonging to Oskar, an old university colleague who is away in America and requires someone to undertake the care and feeding of his neurotic, needy cats and exotic hardwood floors. All you need to know about Oskar is that he is an internationally renowned composer whose most celebrated work is entitled Variations on Tram Timetables. The narrator, meanwhile, is a council copywriter who hopes that a free holiday in his friend's unoccupied flat may inspire something more substantial than a series of pamphlets about rubbish collection.
As an architecture and design journalist by trade, Wiles has little difficulty evoking the rarefied austerity of an apartment in which the air "seemed to have been delivered in the bubbles of a thousand crates of San Pellegrino", and the open-plan spaces so precisely laid out that even the dust motes appear organised. As for the precious, porous floor: "It didn't have nails, it had a manicure."
Wiles's interior monologue ramps up the farcical pressure of responsibility for a floor too sensitive to stand on; and though Oskar is absent, his fussy, imperative tone rings out through a series of instructions so thorough there's even one inserted into a stash of pornography under the bed. In the event of an emergency there's also a volume on the shelves entitled Care of Wooden Floors, giving directions for the application of various compounds that seem to have been sourced from "the Body Shop rather than a hardware store".
Wiles knows about floors; he also clearly knows about cats, as the pampered pets – an indistinguishable black and white pair named Shossy and Stravvy – are incisively characterised. One relishes the manner in which they are described trotting towards their food bowl "with the expectant purposefulness of factory workers at the lunch whistle"; or the way Wiles captures their characteristically feline hauteur: "Nothing snubs quite like a cat. What evolutionary purpose did it serve, this inherent disdain, this artful blanking?"
But the housebound nature of the plot also creates the sense of a novel that, for long stretches, doesn't appear to be going anywhere. It's far more compelling in the opening stages, when the narrator overcomes his inertia to become an unwilling tourist in a bewilderingly oppressive world of antiquated trams, hostile old women and vapid Soviet-era architecture. There's a well-drawn but curiously inconsequential excursion to a lap-dancing joint with an orchestral colleague of Oskar's, and an atmospheric account of a morning spent poking round the national museum. It creates a tangible sense of a place that warrants barely a few pages of the Lonely Planet guide, while significantly enhancing the enigma of Oskar: "Why did Oskar like it here? Did he like it here, beyond the accident of it being his birthplace? His immense talent, his success, meant he could work anywhere he wanted, yet he chose here, with its headscarves and ochre, multi-zeroed banknotes."
All this whets the appetite for Wiles's imminent second book, Toxic Tourism, which is described as a "perverse travel guide" to some of the least appealing parts of the former Soviet bloc, including the Chernobyl exclusion zone, the arid Aral Sea and the Baikonur space launch facility in the desert of Kazakhstan. Care of Wooden Floors indicates that Wiles has an eye for beauty, but an even more impressive eye for ugliness. It's a novel full of impeccably stylish writing, even if its plot could afford to get out more. -

Oskar is a cosmopolitan young man of exquisite taste, a minimalist composer whose best-known work is tagged "Variations on Tram Timetables", which conveys the flavour. His marriage to a Californian art dealer named Laura has just gone pear-shaped and his presence is urgently required in LA, where lawyers are busy unpicking it. Whom does he turn to to care for his lovely apartment in an East European city and his two fluffy cats named after Russian composers, but an old pal from his time at a British university?
The friend, our unnamed narrator, displays the complete antithesis of Oskar's refined sensibilities. He writes council leaflets about dustbin collections for a living, inhabits a scruffy rented flat and, for reasons that become painfully clear, has rarely got past first base with women. He leaps at Oskar's offer, which suggests a free holiday and peace and quiet to start that first novel. The reality, of course, will prove entirely different.
The city turns out to be modern, bleak and hideous, its public buildings still pitted with bullet holes from old revolutions. (By the solid detail of the descriptions, we are sometimes made too aware that the first-time author Will Wiles is an architect and design journalist.) It's the immaculate, white-walled and black-leather design of the apartment that our narrator finds most alarming, though: in particular, the great expanse of exquisitely polished French oak floor.
Oskar never puts in a physical appearance, but his perfectionist personality is omnipresent in the long series of exacting notes that his friend discovers in unexpected places around the apartment. The first of these gives explicit instructions for managing the cats and how to avoid marking the floor. It's not long after this that our flat-sitter makes the tiny error of judgement which will result in a series of increasingly farcical consequences. Polished wood, leather sofas, cats and red wine, he realises, do not mix well. More tragically, he also learns that grand-piano lids are dangerously heavy and that it's safest to leave knives blade-down in the dishwasher.
Horribly, if predictably, compelling, this debut philosophises blackly on life's rumness while unmasking the true nature of a friendship between two oddballs who actually don't know one another well at all. - Rachel Hore

Interview with Will Wiles
Another interview