The good: Great idea for a story.
The not-so-good: Some very sad moments!
Why I chose it: I love Japanese fiction – thank you to Pan Macmillan for the ARC.
Pages: 214 (ARC)
Publisher: Picador (Pan Macmillan)
Translator: Geoffrey Troesselot
Setting: Tokyo, Japan
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
In my experience, generally Japanese fiction seems to be quite serious, even when it is dealing with fantastical themes. Before the Coffee Gets Cold is much lighter, sometimes poking fun at itself. This was a bit confusing to me at first but once I settled in I really enjoyed this story.
The story is itself a little quirky, focusing on a small coffee shop in Tokyo that has the ability for customers to travel back in time. It’s not unknown, as there have been articles written about it and the staff are quite upfront about the rules to patrons who want to give it a go. Still, the coffee shop isn’t exceptionally well patronised but rather more like a coffee shop for locals that attracts the odd stranger. The story follows four people who all want to travel back in time for various reasons. Fumiko wants to meet her boyfriend before he left her in the hope of changing the future (despite being told multiple times that she can’t change the future). Kohtake wants to receive a letter from her husband who now has Alzheimer’s disease and now doesn’t recognise her. Hirai wants to see the sister she dismissed and Kei wants to meet her daughter.
The story balances the sweet, sad and sometimes funny well in the tight confines of the coffee shop. The juxtaposition between the characters and their reasons for visiting the past work well, and it’s delightful to see the outcomes of their visits to the past. The story rarely moves outside the coffee shop, but there is no need for more as that’s where the action is. The characters can be quite melodramatic, especially Fumiko and Hirai. Fumiko Is unused to being denied, even when it comes to time travel and Hirai is determined to fling off the shackles of family and be the most outlandish version of herself. Other characters are much more reserved and restrained in revealing their wants and feelings.
I enjoyed the quirkiness of the rules for time travel from the coffee shop, but having another rule revealed just at the point things could have gone ahead was a little annoying. Very dramatic from a plot point of view, but it made me wonder why the café staff were so stringent in repeating the rules only to leave out the one essential for that person’s journey. For me, the final journey is what made the book for me. People travelled for selfish reasons, others to reunite but the last one was incredibly emotional and beautifully done. It really lifted the whole book for me.
Overall, Before the Coffee Gets Cold is unique and light, filling the void for light Japanese fiction translated into English.