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The Apartment [Hardcover]

Greg Baxter
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 April 2012

'She was always in many places at once, invested deeply in a hundred different notions, and of all the things I liked about Saskia that was the thing I liked most'

One snowy morning in an old European capital, a man wakes in a hotel room. A young local woman he has befriended calls to the hotel, and the two of them head out into the snow to find the man an apartment to rent.

Greg Baxter's astonishing first novel tells the story of these two people on this day - and the old stories that brought them to where they are. Its magically subtle and intense narrative takes them across the frozen city and into the past that the man is hoping to escape, and leaves them at the doorstep of an uncertain future. The Apartment is a book about war, the relationship between America and the rest of the world, and the brittle foundations of Western culture; but above all it is a book about the mysteries and alchemies of friendship - truthful, moving and brilliant.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; 1st Edition edition (5 April 2012)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 1844882861
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844882861
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 12.6 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 426,747 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Admirable for its scope, ambition and unashamed seriousness of purpose, as well as its willingness to take stylistic and structural risks (Julie Myerson Observer )

A wonderful, horrible, wise novel (Dazed & Confused (Book of the Month) )

Stunningly good (Susan Jeffreys Saturday Review, BBC Radio 4 )

Imagine you're on a roller-coaster ... suddenly, without warning, it tips vertiginously, so quickly that your chest constricts and while you're there, suspended, momentarily, at the apex of this roller-coaster, you're aware suddenly of a kind of clarity, a totally new perspective on everything below. Greg Baxter's The Apartment is a bit like this ... Full of unshowy wisdom and surprising moments of beauty (Sunday Telegraph )

Baxter's superbly elegant, understated writing explores the dynamics of America's relationship with the rest of the world (The Times )

His protagonist is not merely struggling beneath the weight of the violence in his own life story; he grapples with the larger sense of history that infuses the text with an effect that recalls WG Sebald. ... There's a maturity to The Apartment not often found in debut novels. (Lucy Scholes The Independent )

Exceptional - a book rich in ideas and poetry. Its power is accumulative and it moves with a calm and yet inevitable progress. It is a deeply mysterious and admirable book. (Hisham Matar )

The Apartment is a small novel - but it's actually huge. Clever, entertaining, brave; it stretches the rules while following a man through one day of his life. I loved it. (Roddy Doyle )

An interesting, honourable novel (James Lasdun The Guardian )

The Apartment is a wonderfully beguiling novel, evoking to perfection that sense of eerie possibility one has when in a strange city. Its account of a new friendship poised on the edge of love is superbly sure-footed. (Adam Thorpe )

Beautiful. Magnificent. Heartbreaking. Greg Baxter is a true original. (Ian Sansom )

A stunning book - beautifully constructed, elegantly written and deeply felt (Stuart Evers )

The Apartment is a mesmerising story of lostness, friendship and dwelling. Both breathtaking and hauntingly beautiful, Greg Baxter's first novel is as crisp and joyful as freshly fallen snow. (Lee Rourke )

A writer of considerable gifts ... Baxter, who now lives in Berlin, is so good at conjuring up the atmosphere of his chilly and crowded city (probably Eastern European and probably fictional) and the character of its inhabitants that you come to feel that you're living there among them in their noisy, bustling cafes and their freezing thoroughfares. ... Baxter shows mastery, too, in his vividly realised characters, especially the charming Saskia (Irish Independent )

About the Author

Greg Baxter was born in Texas in 1974. He lived for a number of years in Dublin, and now lives in Berlin. His memoir, A Preparation for Death, was published in 2010 and acclaimed by Anne Enright, Roy Foster, Hugo Hamilton and David Shields, amongst others.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some good writing, but ... 5 July 2013
The narrator of this story is an American ex-soldier who has moved to a European city, for reasons that gradually become clear as the narrative unfolds. He never names the city, but from the description my guess would be Berlin.
This vagueness of location and his motive for being there is meant to convey a general vagueness about his reasons for existing (or that's how I read it anyway). He also explores his feelings regarding his past life in the armed forces, especially his time in Iraq, which he examines in flashbacks. Although he comes from the western US, he says he hates America and all it stands for.

This is the theme of the book, but there is no real plot. What little story there is unfolds over the course of a day or two, as the narrator searches for an apartment with a woman he's met. They do some shopping, go to a restaurant, meet a few people. All very mundane really, but there is a certain something to the writing that makes it quite readable, though I found that the use of the present-tense in combination with the first-person style (as commonly used in chicklit, for example) soon became a bit tiresome, and this is made worse because there are no quote marks, just the continuous repetition of `I say' and `she says', which have to be used every time anyone says anything, which is often. Did it not occur to the author that quote marks are used for a good reason?
Also, the narrator paints himself as apart from society, an 'outsider'. For example, he tells us about a time when he sat in a cafe watching a girl get beaten up outside the window. Everyone else reacted in some way, but the narrator just sat there drinking his coffee. So it's not easy to like the main character, or even to relate to him in any way.
For this reason, although the writing is sometimes very good, I found this short novel a bit lacking.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Intriguing and Unusual Story 22 May 2013
The main protagonist in Greg Baxter's debut novel 'The Apartment' is an unnamed American man, in his early forties, who has come to an Eastern European city, where he intends to remain for the foreseeable future. Not wishing to remain in the hotel where he is, at present, living, our protagonist enlists the help of a young woman called Saskia, who lives and works in the city and with whom he has recently begun a relationship, to find an apartment for him. An ex-serviceman who fought in Iraq, our main character has accumulated a large amount of money working as a free-lance intelligence operative for both the US government and the Iraqi police, but now, wishing to put his complicated past behind him, he wants to be able to blend in with his surroundings and "anonymise" himself in this alien environment.

Taking place over a single day, this is an unusual, intriguing and somewhat oblique story, written in quite a spare and understated style, but interspersed with some moments of descriptive beauty. The first-person narration draws the reader quietly into the story and the attention to detail of even the most ordinary everyday events, such as the main character buying a pair of waterproof boots, choosing a cashmere overcoat, or simply catching a bus, is quite impressive at times. If you prefer a novel with a strong plot and narrative drive, then this story may not be to your taste - not a huge amount actually happens during the course of the day; the characters drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, play pool - but it is the protagonist's reminiscences of his recent and more distant past, that make this novel rather interesting and involving. I became quite immersed in the character's story from the opening sentences and, before I knew it, I was finishing the final few pages, having found it an intriguing, original and unusual, if not entirely satisfying read.

3.5 Stars.
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3.0 out of 5 stars I am unsure what the author was attempting to do. 28 April 2014
It seems to me that sometimes debut novelists make life difficult for themselves by choosing a genre or subject that is very constrictive. A book of short stories would be one example or, as in the case of the American author, Greg Baxter, focusing a book on a single day.

In this case we have a day in the life of his narrator, a 41-year old unnamed American Iraq war reservist who ‘worked with a team in Baghdad that provided intelligence to troops that were fighting.’ He has been staying in an hotel for just over a month in an unnamed European city and is now searching for an apartment.

The narrator who does yet understand the language is accompanied in his search by a much younger economist who, fortunately, has a name, Saskia, whom he met while looking at ‘The Flagellation of Christ’ by Piero della Francesca, on loan to the city’s art museum. In the course of the day they ride of public transport, meet some of Saskia’s friends, buy clothes, eat and drink and try their best to keep warm, since the city is in the grip of a very cold winter. They also listen to a trumpeter ‘The music is faster now and people start dancing. Whatever makes people want to dance makes me want to stand completely still. That’s how I appreciate good music. It makes me feel calm. I think Saskia is like this too. Her eyes are calm.’

The American has not arrived in the city by complete chance, ‘I wanted to live in a cold city. I couldn’t say precisely why I picked this one.’ However, he does not want to admit this to other people, ‘They asked me why I'd come and I said I didn't know.’ Previously, in the US, he lived in ‘the desert - a town with a small population. When I was seventeen, I left the town in the desert for a city in the desert. There were three million people in that city.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent short novel
The unnamed narrator, a 40-something years old American, comes to unnamed European city. The narrator was born and lived in a hot city in the desert and now wants to live in a cold... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Ray Garraty
4.0 out of 5 stars Mesmerising
There's not a lot of plot in this first novel from Greg Baxter. An unnamed American wanders through an unnamed European city, with a local woman, Saskia, looking for an apartment... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Amanda Jenkinson
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful
I bought this on a whim and really happy with a chance buy. The prose is wonderful. There is terrific atmosphere from page one, and i don't think i'll get to bed tonight. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Mrs. S. King
4.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile
An interesting and worthwhile book. Captures one's curiosity and creates atmosphere. The characters are engaging and the city with its coldness comes to life.
Published 15 months ago by philippa seligman
2.0 out of 5 stars Can you work this out?
I read this book as the author was at the Edinburgh book festival 2012. I was left with many unanswered questions at the end of the book and only finished it as I was going to hear... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Newscot
5.0 out of 5 stars captivating
somewhere in european city an ex-soldier (from the Iraq war) is trying to make sense of his past, of who he is and where he belongs; this is the basic story ... Read more
Published on 16 April 2012 by jackson day
3.0 out of 5 stars Unsatisfying
I feel that this book could have been stronger if the writer had stuck closer to main story thread of the search for an apartment in a European city; the name of which we don't... Read more
Published on 13 April 2012 by Brim
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