Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Krane's Cafe

Krane's Cafe / Cora Sandel; translated from the Norwegian by Elizabeth Rokkan.
London: The Women's Press, 1984, c1946.
176 p.

Taking a break from Canadian translations for a bit, I've headed off to Norway.

Despite this being Sandel's best-known novel (and adapted for the stage) I hadn't heard of it until I found it on the shelves of one of my favourite used bookstores, Attic Books.

This is the joy of publishers like The Women's Press -- they make available things that you didn't even know you needed to read until you see them by chance.

And it has a wonderful first line:

There's a lot to be heard before your ears drop off.

It's the story of Katinka Stordal, a seamstress who has just had enough of her former husband and her spoiled, ungrateful children. She goes to Krane's Cafe to have a drink. And stays in the back room over two days, drinking and loudly complaining about the injustices of life, alongside a disreputable man -- not a local -- who sits down and commiserates, drinking alongside her.

She shocks the local community with her candour and fearless crossing of social expectations as she lets her frustrations out. She complains that her children are demanding and unappreciative, that her clients are demanding and snobby, that life itself has become too full of demands. "It's just that I'm so tired" she tells her companion, only known by the name of Bowler Hat.

Katinka's drunken complaints about the lot of women in general and herself in particular, the sad stifling of ambition and dreams, the crushed love affairs, the expectations and financial burdens on single mothers -- they are all shared without much emotional uproar, at least by herself. The waitresses have their opinions, and Mrs. Krane cries for most of the two days without knowing quite why. The whole town seems to come into Krane's Cafe during these two days, meeting and re-meeting, listening to Katinka and Bowler Hat in the next room, arguing amongst themselves as to the right manner in which to behave to Katinka from now on. They've never been very kind to her, and they're not about to change now.

I can see why this was made into a play; it takes place in one location, structured over two days as if in two acts, and there is much bustling and to-ing and fro-ing with a variety of characters. Each one shows a little bit of the class structure of this town, and reacts in their own particular way to the drama unfolding. The writing is full of conversations, along with wry commentary. It was a quick and dramatic read, which was full of characters and ideas which both appalled and intrigued me. This would be a fabulous book to discuss with other readers; there are many big issues developed in it.

The theme is succinctly expressed in the epigraph, by another of my favourite Scandinavian writers, Sweden's Hjalmar Soderberg:

Poverty is terrible. Of all so-called misfortunes, it's the one that affects you most deeply internally.

Never a truer word.


  1. Fascinating! I've turned out a few quirky books from The Woman's Press and I like the fact the titles are so obscure. But I haven't heard of this one and I like the sound of it!


    1. I thought it was a great read. I know I have another Woman's Press title somewhere on my bookshelves...I'm trying to unearth it before the end of the month!

  2. I used to snap up those cute little Women's Press editions whenever I saw them second-half, but I've had to pare my collection recently. This one wasn't among them anyhow. Which is too bad, because I've already got too cafes in my reading for this year: Gloria Naylor's Bailey's Cafe and Sky Lee's Diappearing Moon Cafe. This one sounds like it would've made a great companion! And, BTW, you're rocking the #wit event. I'm planning to participate next year: you've made it sound like such fun!

    1. That would be a fun collection of cafe titles ;) You could add Cafe Babanussa for a new Canlit title too.

      I've been enjoying #WIT month and catching up on both my reading and reviewing!

  3. I read about such interesting books here! This sounds original and compelling. Excellent review! The bright cover is appealing as well. I will keep this book in mind.

    1. I'm glad you think this sounds interesting! I like discovering older works, glad you do as well.

  4. This would be fun to see as a play. I wish books like this turned up more often at my local bookstore. :)

    1. I'd love to see this as a play! And this is why I love good used bookstores - you always come across something interesting.


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