In part, I picked up ‘The Waiter’ because I enjoy observing the eccentricities of human behaviour that bloom in the hospitality environment. As does the unnamed protagonist who is indeed unique (actually the back cover blurb describes him as ‘neurotic…) The narrative is written in first person and I therefore realised fairly early on that this Waiter’s perception and subsequent understanding of the diners around him was perhaps a little skewed.
I was enraptured by the descriptions of the faded grandeur of the old hotel ‘The Hills’ in Oslo, as well as the intricate dishes the Waiter serves. He has an eye for detail and notices everything; about his co-workers, the diners and the material environment around him (where the cutlery is positioned, the angle of glasses etc). He notices so much but yet on another level doesn’t always comprehend the meaning or significance of it all! I laughed out loud at a number of his musings, in particular his commitment to ‘keeping a straight face’ and not succumbing to winks or nods as a perceived inferior form of communication.
The Waiter’s relationships with the diners carried the narrative for me. He literally serves them their food and drinks but also becomes the unrecognised facilitator for soothing their jagged edges by anticipating their needs before they even utter a word. How often I have felt my own heart swell with a seemingly inane amount of gratitude towards a waiter delivering my hot drink unobtrusively on a frazzled day! The friction starts for this Waiter though when two tables of his long-term diners clash and he’s caught in the middle of what is a nuanced and complicated interpersonal drama. Through it all, I was entertained and quietly drawn into his refined and secluded world and my impression of him and his own peculiarities stayed with me long after I finished the last page.
Reviewed by Belinda