Disturbances in the routines of an old restaurant unhinge the head waiter in this droll, understated debut novel by a Norwegian artist and writer.
The Hills restaurant in central Oslo dates from the mid-1800s and aspires to a Continental ambience, although it has succumbed to grubbiness and grime over the years. As the unnamed waiter opens the narrative, he mentions tradition, alludes to regularity, and defines his role: “I wait. I please.” But something is off. A normally punctual regular known as “the Pig” is 11 minutes late. Worse: One of his expected guests is even later. When she does appear, she’s an attractive young woman who “looks like debauchery dressed as asceticism.” Is the waiter smitten? There are other disturbances over the course of several days. The Pig wants to do business with another patron. Regulars leave their usual tables and commingle. A meal is ordered in reverse, starting with the cheese trolley. The waiter makes a serving error, then another. He injures his hand in the cellar, and the chef performs surgery on the resulting blood blister in a stomach-turning scene. The waiter inexplicably finds himself in the kitchen putting cherry tomatoes through a garlic press. The chef orders him to get replacements from the cellar, and there begins the odyssey of the Romanesco, a sort of cauliflower that tickles the waiter’s fancy. He presents it to the chef instead of the tomatoes. He carries it with him to wait on the young lady. He leaves it on the bar. It’s all so out of character. And what horror does the waiter discover on the mezzanine, where Johansen plays piano nonstop?
Bringing to mind Mervyn Peake and Wes Anderson, with some of Nathanael West’s deadpan grotesque, this is a beguiling, quirky entertainment.