It’s a real pleasure today – on publication day – to be joining the blog tour and sharing my review of The 24-Hour Cafe by Libby Page. Published by Orion, it’s now available for kindle, in hardcover and as an audiobook: the paperback will follow in June, and is available for pre-order. My thanks to Tracy at Compulsive Readers for the invitation and support, and to Virginia at publishers Orion for my advance reading copy (provided via netgalley).
I’m a tad ashamed that I never did get around to reading The Lido – although it was on my kindle from publication date, and every review I read confirmed it would be a book I would love. So when I saw this book on the horizon, there was no way I was going to miss out again…
From the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Lido comes a story of friendship, belonging and never giving up on your dreams
Welcome to the café that never sleeps.
Day and night, Stella’s Café opens its doors to the lonely and the lost, the morning people and the night owls. It’s a place where everyone is always welcome, where life can wait at the door.
Meet Hannah and Mona: best friends, waitresses, dreamers. They love working at Stella’s – the different people they meet, the small kindnesses exchanged. But is it time to step outside and make their own way in life?
Come inside and spend twenty-four hours at Stella’s Café, where one day might just be enough to change your life…
I think I might pin my colours to the mast at outset on this one, particularly having noticed a few early reviews that surprised me by being a little lukewarm – I thought this book was quite wonderful. As you might guess from the title, the book is set over a 24-hour period, in a cafe – a double shift for two of the waitresses, first Hannah a waitress/singer, then Mona a waitress/dancer, close friends at a critical point in their relationship. The long shifts offer plenty of time for reflection – first for Hannah, then the primary point of view switches to Mona, and we get a rich insight into their pasts, the current state of their friendship, their hopes and dreams.
But cafes also have customers, constantly changing, and the book picks up their separate stories too – some are just glimpses, observation that goes no deeper, but some of their lives are exposed in greater detail by moving to their point of view, enabling them to tell their own stories. All human life is here, and there are some stories that capture your heart more than others. There’s Dan, a homeless student struggling with life after the loss of his mother, experiencing the kindness of a stranger; Harry and Martha, off on their honeymoon having found love in later life; Monique, at her wits’ end with post-natal depression; Joe and Haziq, their new relationship about to be torn apart by the immigration laws. The focus even moves outside the cafe, to John the Big Issue seller, pondering both his past and future.
It would have been easy for the book’s narrative drive to become fragmented, for the book to become a succession of rather dissatisfying short stories, but it’s firmly anchored by the flow of the story of Hannah and Mona, and by the cafe itself which becomes a character in its own right. The book opens with an exceptionally vivid piece of description, the cafe frozen in time, the scene set: it then follows the next 24 hours in its life, its staff and customers, the moments of drama (and boredom), the street outside, the changes in the light and the weather.
This is a substantial book at over 400 pages, but I’d have been happy had it been twice as long. The author’s writing draws you into the story, and you become part of it – and not as a mere people-watcher and observer, although that’s an obvious part of its appeal, but engaging in the main story as you debate whether you can sympathise with one of the friends more than the other (for me, the answer was no… I felt deeply for them both) and entering the hidden lives of the succession of customers.
The book’s themes are too many to list, every one quite beautifully handled, given appropriate weight, allowing you to engage at an emotional level. Some of those themes, and the way the stories expose them, are heart-breaking – and the continuing story of Hannah and Mona really worked to expose the fragility of love and friendship, the importance of emotional support. The book is powerful, heartbreaking and uplifting, one of those perfect reading experiences – and I absolutely loved every moment.
And that tour poster I’ve shared is only the start – this is an enormous tour, and here are the rest of the bloggers taking part…
About the author
Libby Page is the author of the Sunday Times bestseller and runaway success of 2018, The Lido. The Lido has sold in over twenty territories around the world and film rights have been sold to Catalyst Global Media.
After writing, Libby’s second passion is outdoor swimming. Libby lives in London where she enjoys finding new swimming spots and pockets of community within the city. She and her sister run a blog and Instagram account @theswimmingsisters, documenting their swims and the benefits of outdoor exercise for mental health.