cover image Café Unfiltered

Café Unfiltered

Jean-Philippe Blondel, trans. from French by Alison Anderson. New Vessel, $17.95 trade paper (232p) ISBN 978-1-954404-20-5

Blondel’s moving and dynamic novel (after Exposed) explores the intersecting lives of visitors and staff at a provincial French café. Over the course of one summer day in 2021, with Covid-19 vaccinations and social distancing at the forefront of people’s minds, the large cast converges at Le Tom’s. There’s Chloé, 31, just beginning to recover from a breakup, and her former schoolmates José, a waiter who dreams of leaving his job to travel the world, and Fabrice, José’s friend and boss, who is set to inherit Le Tom’s from the owner, Jocelyn. Other visitors include middle-aged Françoise, who shocks her adult son by announcing her intention to divorce his father; and childhood friends Thibault and Pierre, meeting to reminisce, though each harbors a private sadness and resentment. At the heart is Jocelyn’s secret reason for the café’s name, which comes out in a poignant revelation. Though Blondel relies a bit too much on stories of women hurt by faithless or cruel men, the café serves as the perfect theater for tragicomedy—a place where, in Chloé’s view, “virtual strangers... chase away demons by building castles in the air.” This has plenty of charm. (July)