Matias Falkbakken has written two other novels in addition to The Waiter but is the only one translated into English. I mention this because for a moment, I thought it must be the novel that inspired Pete Buttigieg to learn Norwegian so he could read an author’s other books. Then I recalled it was published late last year, so it came too late for that story. Nonetheless, it is a book that could inspire someone to learn Norwegian.
Very little happens in The Waiter. There is a restaurant named The Hills, one of those historic grand European restaurants with a generations-old tradition of good service and haute cuisine, complete with a musician who plays piano on the mezzanine above the tables which are covered with old linens kept spotless by The Waiter using his table crumber in his uniform whose manufacture is unchanged from the past.
The constancy of The Hills is ideal for The Waiter, a sensitive soul whose job has two criteria, as he explains, “I have to show pride in my work, and I have to be self-effacing. The pride in my work makes me adhere to rigid routines which are vital for my well-being, since being highly sensitive means that I don’t like surprises or change. The self-effacing aspect means that I can interact with and serve people without having to get involved.”
This all comes crashing down when a young woman comes to The Hills and moves from one table of guests to another, so regulars become irregular by interacting and not just with each, but with The Waiter. This creates the “complex social contexts” that creates the “inner collapse” of our narrating waiter. Over the course of five days we proceed from the constancy he loves to chaos and crisis, though really, it’s just some people eating at a restaurant.
Describing the plot of The Waiter does it an injustice, it’s magic is that with almost no plot, a tense, suspenseful story of inner turmoil and collapse is woven with prose that takes my breath away.
I think The Waiter is one of those books people either love or hate. It is mostly the inner monologue of the waiter who is stuck in his routines but who is also deeply steeped in culture so he can marvel at the fractal design of romanesco and the particulars of art, music, and history. He is never boring as he natters on, but the most peril he faces is going to the storage cellar for some wine and pinching the outside of his hand in a drawer.
The Waiter is a compelling book. I was perhaps a fifth or less into the book, wondering what it was going to be about when the next thing I knew, I was done without coming up for air and I enjoyed every minute of it.
I received an e-galley of The Waiter from the publisher through NetGalley.
The Waiter at Gallery | Simon & Schuster
Alice Menzies, translator, at LinkedIn