Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
I would Picador for an advance copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review
Publisher – Picador
Published – Out Now
Price – £8.99 paperback
In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a café which has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop offers its customers a unique experience; the chance to ravel back in time. In Before the Coffee Gets Cold, we meet four visitors; each of whom is hoping to make use of the café’s time-travelling offer….
There are all moments in life you wish you could revisit. The last time you saw a relative; a particular argument that you never could go back on; but what exactly would you do? Is the past fixed? Would you change your mind? IN Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s novel (here translated by Geoffrey Trousselot) a chance to revisit the past has implications for each of the four people who seek the offer. Unfortunately, I found their trips in time to really serve a very pointed agenda over the best way to behave.
In Tokyo there is an urban legend about a café called Funiculi Funicular. There is a apparently a seat where if you sit there and have a cup of coffee you can travel in time. Many people sought it out but soon the attraction faded. Because in this dark timeless café the rules are you can never leave the seat; only there as long as the coffee gets warm and they can’t actually change the past. Oh, and these days the seat is permanently occupied by a ghost (of a person who broke the rules) so you have to wait until they go the toilet before you can try. A police box this is not! Over the course of this novel we meet four people who have very specific reason to go back and in each the change they make is more for their own futures.
So yes, it’s a unique concept and I like the low tech approach of a magical café and it’s more low key staff who just all work around the seat and ghost rather than making it some world shattering discovery. The whole style of the novel is this is a normal world even with time travel but my issue with the novel was how the four women all chosen to time travel were all getting a cosmic pull your socks up experience in how women should behave. In one a young powerful executive was being chided for not telling her ex-boyfriend she really loved him; a woman with a husband with Alzheimers was told effectively it better to lie to a husband that all will be well in the future then carry on living while he declines. But the final two stories are were I saw red – in the third tale an ongoing character who owns a nearby Inn who we have met in earlier tales was revealed to have left her parent’s hotel many years ago to live her own life. A family tragedy means when she has her trip in time is the universe apparently told her to give up having her own place; dressing and behaving rebelliously (aka drinking; smoking and wearing leopard print tops) and instead she goes back home and dress traditionally. The final tale is where a woman is pregnant with a heart condition which in childbirth would be fatal. The hotel shows her an unusual trip to the future and shows her that her sacrifice will mean a happy young woman is born out of her personal tragedy…
The whole philosophy of the tales is that women need to pay better attention to their men; not rebel and follow their natural roles whatever the cost to themselves and I found this incredibly increasingly patronising and sexist as the novel progressed. It increasingly became evident this was the theme as I realised the ghost would of course be a woman who did not follow the rules when trying to talk to a lover. Kawaguchi seems fond to have women see the error of their ways and behave better – the high-flying executive we meet in the first tale is even apparently happier in the future to just help run the café. I will be honest by the end I was just wanting this café to suffer an accidental fire and have no more lives ruined. It’s a cosy time travel novel with a razor sharp unpleasant sexist moral message that really didn’t work for me. I prefer my time travel to be a bit more rebellious; very aptly this is not my cup of tea at all.