Published by Orion
Publication date – 23 January 2020
Source – review copy
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 work at Stella’s Cafe, an open all hours diner in the heart of London. As customers come and go the reader follows 24 hours in the lives of the staff and customers and just how much can change in such a short amount of time.
Hannah and Mona are best friends but different in many ways. Mona is fastidiously tidy, Hannah, not so much. Mona wears a muted palette whereas Hannah is a riot of colours. Mona knows what she wants to do, her dream is to be a dancer. Hannah wants to sing but is feeling that her chances of success diminish each year. She has just split from her boyfriend and the truth behind the separation comes out during the day. The two live together and work together, though today they are passing each other as Mona ends her 12 hour shift and Hannah embarks on hers. They share gossip about the regular customers but as the story progresses the reader sees that they don’t share everything with each other.
The shifts at the cafe allow both women to re-evaluate their lives, to see where the decision to take one path and not the other has led them to this safe, though not completely fulfilling life. There is time for introspection between cappuccinos and sandwich deliveries.
I really enjoyed the side stories, the glimpses into the lives of the cafe’s customers, how they interlink and come back around, how they impact the lives of Hannah and Mona, and others, little ripples radiating out.
It’s easy to imagine the diner, the black and white tiled floor, the fake leather booths. the steamed up windows and the weary travellers, refueling before they venture back out onto the streets of London. The customers are easily conjured up, groups of revellers, resting briefly after their night on the tiles. Two lovers, about to be separated because of expired visas. Newlyweds, finding love the second time around. A homeless student, keeping it together until university opens again and he can pretend to be just like his peers for a few hours.
The book is split into hourly chapters, and between the viewpoint of Hannah and Mona, as they split the 24 hours with their separate shifts. Both look back at their pasts, at their hopes and dreams as they were, and how far they have, or haven’t come to achieving them. Those hourly segments mean that the book is easy to read, and the switching between characters gives a rounded view. I’m not always a fan of present tense but here it makes sense. The reader is being told the story in ‘real time’ and sees the ups and downs unfold as they happen.
A study of the everyday, though far from mundane. I’ll be interested to read more from Libby Page in the future.