The 24-Hour Café: book review
Author: Libby Page
Genre: Modern Fiction
Publisher: Orion Fiction
Year: January 2020
The 24-Hour Café is one of the loveliest books I have read! I knew from the blurb that it involved chasing your dreams and never giving up on them, and I found the subject matter very similar to my own experience. That was the reason I connected to the characters, I think. Reading The 24-Hour Café feels like people-watching but in a book form. There are short chapters that follow the perspective of the two main characters, Mona and Hannah. Those chapters are interspersed by bits of the stories of all the customers who enter the café during their shifts. Short glimpses into strangers’ lives, they were interesting to read to help realise everyone is going through something. Many problems in today’s world were mentioned in the book, many of the things people hide from the outside world. ‘Everyone is going through something they don’t talk about’*, and some of these ‘somethings’ are gathered in this book.
Here’s the summary:
‘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.’
Hannah and Mona are best friends and they work in a café in order to support themselves while working on their dream jobs, the ones they hope to get one day. The author managed to capture their longings very well: the struggle to do your best at work, even though it is not your true calling, to make the hours pass, followed by even longer hours of practice, or learning the stuff that you’re passionate about in your free time. Not that you have any time to spare, no. It’s all a constant battle, juggling your day job with the potential job that’s waiting for you just around the corner… or is it? That’s what Hannah and Mona wonder when they day-dream about working as a singer and a dancer, respectively. It is easy to fall into а routine and forget about your dreams, especially when what you do in the meantime is so much easier than your hours of practice and learning, and it pays the bills. But getting out of your comfort zone is what will get you closer to fulfilling your dreams. That and being consistent.
This book got me thinking (again) about how different people are and how many different people there are in the world. Just in your city. In your neighbourhood, even. Everyone lives their own life, has their own struggles and joys. Every person has someone they care about, they have friends and family, they do the most ordinary things and the most extraordinary, too. I sometimes wonder about this. How every person we walk past on the street has a life we know nothing about. These thoughts came to my mind again because of all the different customers that frequent the small café. We learn a small fraction of their inner worlds, but only because the narrator tells these details to us. For Hannah and Mona they are just customers, they know nothing about them but sometimes wonder what their lives have been like or what their future holds. The truth is, they will never know. This, on the other hand, reminded me of object permanence, which is the understanding that objects continue to exist when they cannot be seen, heard, or touched. People will continue to exist, and go to other cafés, and meet with different people, and do all the things they have been doing, even though you will know nothing about all of that. Ever.
I think this all got a bit too philosophical, so let’s explore some of the other themes of the book.
I loved the idea that friendship is as strong as love between lovers. It feels a little bit like love between lovers, you get the same butterflies in your stomach from the fact that you have found someone who understands you, and you can be yourself with this person, share the joys and the sorrows. I liked the chemistry between Hannah and Mona, which we mostly gathered from the retrospective bits from their past that they are both reminiscing over during their shifts. Hannah and Mona’s friendship felt very real, as no friends go through life without quarrels and heartbreak and difficulties, and the two girls are no exception. They have their ups and downs, but in the end it all comes down to the question, is it all worth fighting for? Are the good memories more than the bad moments? Can you overcome the worst parts of your friendship in the name of making it last, or survive even?
So much happens in the twenty-four hours we spend with the characters, so many people go in and out, some stay for longer, others pass only briefly through the café, but they all carry stories, they all have different experiences and passions. Hannah and Mona both have their true callings in other endeavours. When you know in your heart what you’re supposed to do in your life, nothing can stop you, no matter how difficult it gets. That’s what the girls experience and find out the hard way. To be honest, I sympathised with Mona more, as Hannah comes across as selfish and not entirely likeable, so she annoyed me most of the time. The rest of the customers I didn’t really relate to, as their stories were only briefly mentioned throughout the book, but even so, I liked those parts: little glimpses into the lives of strangers.
An inspiring and uplifting story about friendship and love, obsessions and struggles, not giving up and following your purpose. Now I’m very curious to read The Lido, Libby Page’s very successful first novel, a Sunday Times bestseller in the UK and published in over twenty territories around the world.
In case you need me… #owlbeereading!
* This quote was on the window display of Grams café in Edinburgh.