The Waitress Was New by Dominique Fabre
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
"You really are a useful thing in other people's lives when you're a barman."
First a micro-review of this micro-book: Not much of a story, no overt message, yet a good read: well-captured everyday life, unadorned with literary frills.
Dominique Fabre's novella The Waitress Was New (2005) with its 110 half-size pages may be - gasp! - a bit short even for me. However, what is does not exhibit in terms of volume it makes up by being thoroughly unusual: the novella is a quiet celebration of the ordinariness of everyday life. People's behaviors and characterizations are the focus and there is only a slightest whisper of what might be considered a "story."
For Pierre, the narrator, a lonely aging barman in Café Le Cercle in Paris, working the bar is the only sense and focus of his existence. While hints are dropped as to his dramatic past: divorce(s), drugs, serious illness, Pierre is almost serene these days. Not that he is actually happy: he is just accustomed to a tolerable degree of unhappiness. No dreams, no hopes, but also no major worries, except for anxieties about not having secured enough work credits for the full pension after almost forty years of employment.
Quiet, peaceful life filled with listening to the bar patrons' troubled stories, observing their behavior, reading Primo Levi's books in the evenings, and conversing with his long dead mother. In the tiny wisp of a plot his boss' marital life is in trouble and Pierre, rather unsuccessfully, is trying to offer emotional support to the boss' wife. The thinness of the story emphasizes that anything that "happens" is really incidental to the melancholy account of Pierre's days who is already sort of on the other side, seemingly resigned to the fact that he will spend the remaining years of his life occupied with waiting for death.
Good, extremely short read, which at first does not feel depressing. This comes later - I am sure that's precisely what the author intended - when the reader reflects on what it means to be old and completely lonely. One will not find much solace in this book, but why should one: life is a pretty grim business and the end comes too soon.
Three and a quarter stars.
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