The Waiter, Matias Faldbakken

1. First lines. 2. Published 2018 Penguin; Simon and Schuster Originally published 2017 in Norway as “The Hills” 3. Photo by from PxHere
Plot:

“The Hills” is a centuries-old restaurant in Oslo that is steeped in tradition. Working at the restaurant is “the waiter”, middle-aged and a stickler for routine and old-fashioned service. He is thrown completely off balance when a young woman starts coming into the restaurant and upsets the established routine.

Quotes:

“And here I stand, straight-backed in my waiter’s uniform, just as I might have done a hundred years ago or more. People do extreme things every day. But not me. No. I wait. I aim to please. I move around the room taking orders, pouring drinks and clearing away.”

“Shouldn’t you become more confident in yourself as the years pass? I try to think positively. I see my tired, weary face in the mirror every day, and say to myself: This is the youngest you’ll look for the rest of your life.”

“The Hills is one of the capital’s defining institutions, one which gives Oslo character and draws the long lines. The space, or the premises, where I now will forever stand in my waiter’s jacket, is an intricate meshwork of scraped-together items, and I sometimes feel sick at the thought that the longest-standing, most constant and unchanging “traditional place” is a mosaic of items dragged and scraped together.”

“The chandelier isn’t especially big, no bigger than a horse’s nose bag, but it is heavy and hangs like a crystal sack from the low vaulted ceiling above the round table in the middle of the room. There are concentric circles of well-trampled mosaic tiles on the floor. All the woodwork is solid, dark, and worn. The two large mirrors are impressive. The reflective coating on the back of the glass has cracked here and there; it adds a nice patina.”

My thoughts:

I found the first few chapters of the book enjoyable. Descriptions of the restaurant, and the character portrayals seemed to be setting up for something to happen. But this is not a plot-driven story. There is definite tension building, but it fizzles out and becomes a portrait of a restaurant and its staff, with the head waiter’s anxiety growing with every deviation from the routine.

Book Reviews:
  • Kirkus: “… this is a beguiling, quirky entertainment.”
  • Publishers Weekly: “… a clever, striking novel.”
  • The Complete Review: “Faldbakken’s portrait of these two main characters — waiter and restaurant — is rich and evocative, while the many incidental characters, divided up between supporting characters (the various other restaurant-affiliated employees) and clientele, is also very good. Indeed, The Waiter is enjoyable to read for the descriptions, of the people, atmosphere, and the various, generally fairly small-scale restaurant-happenings — but Faldbakken doesn’t quite manage the payoff that seems to be lurking underneath the narrative all along. Not so much tease, The Waiter nevertheless winds up, when all is said and done, a bit flat, more show than anything telling. Yes, there is substance to it, and to its protagonist, who obviously has quite a few issues, but the novel doesn’t quite dig down deep enough into them (even in its forays into The Hills’ splendid old cellar …). ”
Awards:
Other editions:

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