Edward Monkford & Dominion

Looking out the window. Free image via Pixabay.

The last novel that I read was The Girl Before by JP Delaney. It follows the story of two girls and a house. I am not referencing anything obscene, I promise. If you're thinking about that thing, it's you, it's not me. Anyway, we have Girl Number 1 Emma, whose story is in the past and Girl Number 2 Jane, who's story is in the present. Both stories happen at One Folgate Street.

The said house is built by techno-minimalist Edward Monkford. The way the place is described, I get a sense of hyperbole. Before you can be approved to rent the house, you need to answer a questionnaire with questions that don’t seem to have anything to do with being a tenant. Here are some of my favorites because they made me stop and think rather long about my own answers:

Question 5a: You have a choice between saving Michaelangelo’s statue of David or a starving street child. Which do you choose?

And this is Question 13: There is often a large gap between my goals and my outcomes. Agree; Disagree.

Let me know what you think of those questions and your answers.

The novel is categorized as — at least, if you check what's written on the back cover and the blurbs — a psychological thriller. We're not talking about that. What I find interesting is how the girls are convinced to live in the house.

Because aside from the questions, there are more than a hundred conditions in the lease agreement. Some of which are outright ridiculous, like you can't hang paintings or pictures on the wall. You can't plant anything in the garden, not even potted plants. No rugs or carpets, no ornaments, and, get ready for this, no books.

I imagine the dwelling as, not even a museum but a cathedral or a mausoleum. In my mind it’s almost empty, materially speaking; and also devoid of emotional warmth. The effect is an encouragement to go nowhere but inwards, to reconnect with yourself.

As I read on, surprisingly, slowly I find the house attractive, too. Not that I start fantasizing about living there. No way. But I kind of get where Edward, the architect, is coming from.

All the while, we actually share the same ideas.

He has built his ideal smart house. With a super-intelligent technology. That if you trust it, it will make you a better person. The house acquaints itself with its inhabitants and will serve their needs. It will learn, for example, the temperature of water that you want for your bath.

If you do something bad for yourself, however — and the house has the power to decide whether you’re staying healthy or not, physically and mentally — as soon as it detects something wrong, it will amend it in the way it knows how, ie, in the way that it is programmed.

For me, a key word in the novel is control. There is the architect in control of the design of the house. The house itself that is in control of its inhabitants. And the inhabitants who are also in control, supposedly, of their lives, and by extension, of both Edward and the house he designed.

That for me is a fascinating play in the novel: Who has control over whom and what, and how much. In the end we see that the house is not really as hi-tech as it seems. That we can only outsmart each other and our own selves.

Once again the Philippines — just some context for our international listeners — we are currently facing another surge in COVID-19 cases, and so we are back to, at least in my city, we are back to having a curfew and a liquor ban, among other restrictions in the name of safety.

In these early months of 2021, I realize how much the last year has changed me. In terms of my habits. I have turned into a slob. If I were living in One Folgate Street, the house would have warned me. I am sure it would have warned me back in maybe April 2020 that I was doing something wrong, and me do something about it.

So in the last couple of weeks, I've been in that phase again, it was like a repeat of when I moved in to my apartment. I was arranging things purposefully. I bought new stuff, threw away old stuff, moved furniture around. Doing everything to make my living space an encouraging space.

I have a tiny apartment yet it seems so big whenever I try to clean it. Or make it beautiful. These four walls are limitless when it comes to making me suffer. Because there is always something broken, something missing, and so on.

But now I want to work with it. Also just this year I've heard a couple of variations of the same thought. Nicole, my last guest, she said, "Take care of your team, and they will take of you." Then in an episode of The Verb about fashion and textile, one of the guests said, "Take care of your clothes, and they will take care of you".

Well let me make my own variation. Take care of your house, and it will take care of you.

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