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Sunday, 28 June 2020

Before the Coffee Gets Cold - Toshikazu Kawaguchi (2019)

Rating: Mediocre

I've read quite a bit of Japanese fiction and I love the spare, poetic prose and the unique narrative forms that are often employed by many Japanese authors. Before the Coffee Gets Cold looked promising, with an intriguing time-travel premise. In a small, very old Tokyo cafe you can sit with a coffee and travel back in time, but you can only stay as long as the coffee remains warm, and if you don't drink it before it gets cold then you are trapped in time. It turns out that there is much more to it than that, but unfortunately it also turns out that this novel is fatally flawed. Firstly Before the Coffee Gets Cold very obviously suffers from having been adapted from a play and then translated into English. The prose is stilted to the extent that I could almost be willing to believe that it was written by a wooden post. The first section - 'The Lovers', is frustrating to read due to a great deal of hesitant and fragmented dialogue, one dimensional characters and, to be frank, a flirtation with sheer narrative tedium.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold does improve gradually, with some reasonably believable emotional scenes between husband and wives, two sisters and, lastly, a mother and child. The main characters are fleshed out slightly more, but the dialogue remained very stilted, resulting in a low ceiling for sympathetic connection with the characters and their various travails. One intriguing character, who is a ghost, forever trapped somewhere in-between the past and the present (I assume...), but occupying the very seat that allows time travel, could have presented an opportunity for some fascinating narrative possibilities, however she was underused and remained merely a narrative device. I'm certain that performed as a play the novel's themes of fate, tragedy and the healing opportunity afforded by a change of attitude, would have come across much better, but as a novel it totally fails to convince.


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