Told without chapter breaks or quotation marks, The Apartment is a distinctly modern novel about an unnamed American narrator walking around an unnamed eastern European city in search of a place to live. There is more than a touch of the psycho-geographer about this narrator who, unfamiliar with the natives and unable to speak their language, exists in a state of considerable isolation. See, The Apartment, whose content never seems far from being a commentary on its own creation, is much less about an apartment than it is about ‘apart-ment’.
The influence of Sebald is clear from the beginning and becomes still clearer as the narrator’s recent history as a contractor in Iraq comes to light. ‘I try not to think about the past,’ he says at one point early on. And it’s true, he does try: there are very few instances of past tense verbs in the first third of the book. Instead, the present tense is described in frustrating slow-motion – frame-by-fucking-frame, it often seems. ‘Saskia takes her gloves and hat off. I pull the collar of my coat down and pull my winter hat off.’ The narrative proceeds so slowly, in fact, that eventually it ceases to travel forward at all. Instead, it is cast backwards into murky depths of the narrator’s bloody and fragmented (‘a-part-ment’) past. Baxter seems to have written The Apartment in exactly the same place he wrote his recent memoir, A Preparation for Death: the confession box.
Words: Kevin Breathnach