The Cafe by the Sea: Jenny Colgan
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Hogwarts House Recommendation: Hufflepuff
After the death of her mother, Flora MacKenzie left her island and intended never to return. Mure was…fine, but the memories were too much and the people too nosy. Now she’s living in London where she can enjoy her own professional life and fantasies about being with the boss that she can’t have.
Then her boss lands a client that lives on Flora’s island and she is recruited to help him win a dispute over there. Despite misgivings about coming back, she is soon reunited with her father and brothers. During her time there, she also finds herself restoring a seaside building which she turns into a cafe. And then she finds herself wondering where she truly belongs…
Despite me sometimes having some issues with the flow of the writing, I am always eager to pick up another Jenny Colgan novel, especially in the summer. This is a novel that includes all her trademark tropes: two possible love interests (which most readers might not be able to guess, a refreshing take in these kinds of books), a woman restarting her life, a woman who likes to bake, a woman who starts her own business, etc. At first, I was worried to pick up another one. The Bookshop on the Corner did very little for me and was almost an exact replica of a previous novel of hers that I read. It went nowhere and there was almost no plot. But as long as these tropes are used in new ways, I’ll almost always enjoy a Colgan novel.
This time, it’s a little different. Flora is actually very happy in her life, or so she thinks. Then when she has to go back home for business, she finds that maybe her island home isn’t so bad. Contrary to the cover, it’s really not so much a book about restoring a cafe as it is about family and finding your way back home. In fact, the cafe isn’t really touched on very much and it’s set up and running in five pages. If anything, it’s a plot device used to bring the community together.
Flora has to contend with several issues. For one, there’s her family. After the death of her mother, she is wanting to repair her relationships with her brothers and father. She left and the island was not happy. I did find that the reasoning for the island’s reason for their anger at her disappearance was superficial to the point where I was wondering if I should like these inhabitants. That’s not to say that characters aren’t well-developed or stereotypes. From loudmouthed niece Agot (I did wish that Colgan could find another way than capital letters to express loudness) to crotchety dance teacher Mrs. Kennedy to Flora’s brother Fintan, nobody is a flat caricature. In fact, there wasn’t one character I didn’t find interesting; on the other hand, nobody was over the top. Charlie’s significant other, Jan, is a charitable person but isn’t a saint; rather, she is a bully to those she doesn’t like. And I have to give Colgan more props: the gay characters were actually people. Every other gay character I read about this year has been a caricature. Not so in Cafe by the Sea. And the character that was written like a stereotype? They were straight. Seriously, kudos to the author for actually making these people people. As for the mother, her presence is felt as well. Now normally I’m sick and tired of hearing about dead parents–and am! However, in this story’s case, the mother’s death gives Flora a reason to reconnect with former acquaintances. The grief is written well, too. It doesn’t take over the book but Flora does have her moments of sadness that come just when you might think they would. Flora also inspires others. Her brother Fintan must also find his life’s purpose when he begins to realize that maybe working on the family farm for the rest of his life isn’t for him. Overall, the novel is a journey of change as characters decide what exactly their futures are.
No Colgan novel would be complete without a love story. Flora enters the novel having a crush on her boss. When he comes back to the island, she may have another shot, but there is another man in the picture as well. She is willing to chance it with both, so readers will find themselves wondering who she will pick. Unlike other novels, it may not be obvious from the start. If I had one complaint, I did find that the inciting climactic event comes out of nowhere and seemed a bit manufactured. And as for the guy she does end up with? One might wonder whether it’s a solid relationship, or if it’s just lust. (There appears to be a sequel that serves to answer this question.) There’s an ethical side plot, too. Flora’s love interest has a client that lives on the island, bringing his business with him. However, the inhabitants’ ire is felt once again as they don’t care too much for the guy and some of the plans that he has. (Characterization shines again, as this guy isn’t the evil corporate owner I see a lot of.) Ultimately, in a book that has a sea of plots, Flora must decide who to side with and what she wants for herself.
The Cafe by the Sea, though maybe not an accurate title, is another great addition to Colgan’s library. It’s a lovely tale about finding your roots and maybe while the romance didn’t seem all there, the family stuff more than made up for it. It makes a great beach read, so if you’re yet to go on vacation, pick it up.