The 24-Hour Café by Libby Page: Tale of our times written straight from the heart - book review -
A cosy, friendly café which nestles enticingly on one of London’s busy, bustling streets, and which speaks loudly of friendship, belonging, and never giving up on your dreams.
Hands up if you’re a people watcher?
If sitting back and watching the world go by floats your boat, then set sail for The 24-Hour Café and delve into the lives of a group of ordinary, but fascinating, people on a single day that will mark endings and new beginnings.
In 2018, Londoner Libby Page burst on to the book scene with her extraordinary debut novel, The Lido – an uplifting, contemporary tale about the fight to save a community swimming pool – which proved to be a runaway success and whose film rights have been sold to a global production company.
And now self-confessed passionate swimmer Page has surfaced again to bring us a quietly dramatic and powerfully emotional novel set in a cosy, friendly café which nestles enticingly on one of London’s busy, bustling streets, and which speaks loudly of friendship, belonging, and never giving up on your dreams
Stella’s Café is an oasis of calm in the city that never sleeps, a place that is open both night and day, and a source of refreshment and solace to an eclectic mix of characters… some grabbing happiness while they can, some suffering fear and loneliness, some frightened and harbouring painful secrets, and some lost souls in need of a friendly face.
With its retro charm and calming ambience, the café opens its doors for both the morning people and the night owls. It is many things to many people but most of all it is a place where life can wait at the door, where anyone can be whoever they want, and where everyone is always welcome.
Behind the counter and the shiny coffee machine, which ‘administers caffeine to the sleepless,’ are close friends Hannah and Mona who share shifts at the café, a cramped ex-council flat, and dreams of becoming stage stars.
Hannah, from a small village in Wales, longs to be a singer but is still looking for the big break, and Mona, who is half-Argentinian and half-German, has her sights set on being a professional dancer. Both want to leave the café behind but for the past four years, their lives have been dominated by trying to balance their ambitions with the need to earn a living.
What one of them doesn’t yet know is that over the next 24 hours, their futures will be changed and their friendship tested. Today is just the start, but it is also marks a conclusion…
In the space of 24 hours and 400 pages, Page introduces us to a compelling cross-section of society and allows us to share their hopes, dreams, fears, frustrations, loves, losses and friendships, and to discover that just the smallest acts of kindness can transform lives.
At the beating heart of the story are wannabe performers, housemates and waitresses Hannah and Mona whose close friendship and deep emotional attachment will be revealed and then change dramatically over the course of their two double shifts.
In that time, their customers come and go and the stage is set for their lives and experiences, their private battles and their secret hopes and heartaches, all to be illuminated in the warm glow and friendly security of Stella’s Café.
From an older couple rediscovering love and a young woman struggling to cope with a new baby to a penniless student and a gay couple whose relationship is under threat, Page delivers a clever snapshot of not just the cosmopolitan nature of the big city but also a glimpse of universal emotions and social issues.
Perfectly paced, psychologically astute, and with a conclusion that gives us the final pieces of the storytelling jigsaw, this is a tale of our times written straight from the heart.
(Orion, hardback, £12.99)