The right book can instantly transport you to anywhere — and anytime — in the world. Every Thursday, we recommend one of our favorite books with a strong sense of place so you can see the sights, meet remarkable people, go on exciting adventures, and feel big feelings. Bonus: You don't even have to put on pants.
This post is part of our 'Weekend Getaway' series.
If you like an inside look at everyday jobs and the people who do them, this is the (charming! delightful!) novel for you. The restaurant setting is so vividly rendered, you’ll hear the gentle hum of conversation and the musical clatter of cutlery in the background.
The Hills is a grand old-school European-style restaurant in Oslo, Norway. Both the café itself and the waiter of the title are throw-back to a more elegant and refined time — even if they’re also becoming a bit rough around the edges.
Our hero is the Waiter, a man who takes himself — and his role as a server — quite seriously: ‘It’s all about eating in here, and I’m a facilitator.’ The ritual of the dining room, his white canvas jacket; these are his shields against the unpredictability and crassness of modern life. Within the walls of The Hills, at least, there can be dignity. Conversations are held to an appropriate murmur. A piano player plinks away on the mezzanine. The cheese course always precedes dessert and follows the mains.
The Waiter is surrounded by his co-workers who are only referenced by their titles — the Chef, the Maitre D’, the Bartender — never their names. There’s also a corps of regulars with, as we soon learn, more money than manners. Each lunch and dinner unfolds much like the last until the day an unexpected female guest — ‘She looks like debauchery dressed as asceticism.’ — invades the Waiter’s domain and upends everything that’s holding him together.
Although all the action takes place within the confines of the restaurant, a delicious tension builds in the quiet moments and slapstick mishaps. As our Waiter begins to short-circuit in the wake of his disrupted routine, we’re treated to his chatty and far-ranging (and somewhat neurotic) internal monologue. It’s an entertaining peek into his ‘sensitivities’ and snobbery.
Like a Wes Anderson film turned into a book, this story partially camouflages its warm heart with smooth style and charm. When the chinks begin to show in the Waiter’s defenses, it’s surprising and delightful — a wry look at the insults and absurdities that life serves to all of us.
The morning, as we all know, belongs to coffee. Regardless of the ripple effects that coffee production and motoring have, it’s hard to imagine a life without the two, ideally in combination, and preferably in the morning. The activities of slurping coffee and driving cars are, in one’s very chromosomes, linked to the idea of getting pumped up and underway… Doing away with one of these is like amputating a limb from the body of society: it’s completely out of the question. — Matias Faldbakken
This workplace farce (256 pages) was published in October of 2018 by Gallery/Scout Press. The book takes you to an upscale restaurant in Oslo, Norway. Melissa read The Waiter and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
Bookshop.org is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community.
Top image courtesy of Kate Townsend/Unsplash.
Want to keep up with our book-related adventures? Sign up for our newsletter!
Can you help us? If you like this article, share it your friends!
Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.
Strong Sense of Place is a listener-supported podcast. If you like the work we do, you can help make it happen by joining our Patreon! That'll unlock bonus content for you, too — including Mel's secret book reviews and Dave's behind-the-scenes notes for the latest Two Truths and a Lie.
This is a weekly email. If you'd like a quick alert whenever we update our blog, subscribe here.
We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.
This 30-page Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.
Content on this site is ©2023 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.