#Book Review: The 24-Hour Café

Author: Libby Page

After reading magnificent Island Home by Libby Page, I purchased her two other books due to the impact the Island Home made on me. I first read the 24-Hour Café with Lido on my next to-read list. I was attracted by the 24-Hour Café due to the funky title that did not tell me about the book. Wow! What a joy to read this book and what a shock to find myself in another book by the same author.

It is as if Libby Page is writing about my life. In The Island Home, she wrote about going back to the place where Lorna grew up and described some of my feelings very accurately. Now she described the life of two artists (a musician and a dancer) who are waitressing in London whilst trying to make it in their fields. I am no artist, but I do remember a time when I came to study in London having previously been a journalist in Croatia and then waitressing and trying to get a job, failing, being disappointed and having to make a decision about what to do. I made the decision to go back to Croatia at the time and it was a good decision. I made it first in Croatia and then returned to the UK for a professional career in which I now thrive.

But what is incredible is how accurately Libby Page describes the feelings of people in this situation. I honestly do not even know how she does it, but you read this book and you know exactly how characters feel and you feel like you can envision the Stella café. Almost as if you are there with the characters. Interestingly, this café is based in the Liverpool Street Station area in London, which is where I lived when I studied in London. Again, incredible but this is maybe why I feel these books so much and find them incredible. Somehow, characters have some elements of my life story, not all of it but enough to make me identify with them.  

Another amazing thing about this book is the portrayal of London, which is from one side portrayed as a city of strangers but also as a city with incredible and diverse life stories. I have always been interested in the sociology of everyday life and whilst I am yet to do that research, I do enjoy TV programmes and books that tackle the everyday. This book does exactly that and through the 24 hours of work in the Stella café, we learn the life stories of many people who come to the café and see that even though London is the city of strangers, there is so much in people who live there and if we observe them and talk to them, we might make a difference. The way London and Hannah’s observation of people are described in this book is delightful because this is exactly what I always loved during that one year I lived there; watching people go about their daily lives and wondering what their story was, which is so easy in a city as busy as London where nobody pays attention to you.

There is an interplay here between London as a city of strangers and London as a place of small communities and a message of doing good which we learn with the example of a student called Dan who struggles financially but one kind stranger helps him and makes a difference, only because of an accidental conversation in a café. London always appealed to me because it is so huge and people are estranged so I felt protected in my invisibility to observe people, which has always been a passion of mine (a PhD in Sociology, remember?) but I also always enjoyed these strange encounters with people that occasionally happen. This is also how I met a friend, in a small café near City University where I studied who then later let me stay with him for a few weeks when I struggled with money and could not afford a room. It is precisely these little cafes that make a difference and can create friendships and even communities in a beautiful city of strangers which all of us who lived there deeply love.

A beautiful, beautiful book.

Thank you for reading!

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