The Restaurant, Roisin Meaney's wholesome novel about friendship, love and kindness is sure to leave any reader with a warm, fuzzy feeling. The story is the perfect antidote to autumnal chills.
Meaney’s latest novel is centred, as the name suggests, on a small but unusual restaurant in an Irish town.
This special eatery, known as The Food of Love, holds a special place in the affections of the owner Emily as it was originally the site of her late grandmother’s hat shop. As the novel progresses, the importance of the restaurant grows amongst those in the community who are lonely. Emily’s offbeat restaurant provides an intimate co-dining experience, and it is around the large oval dining table which patrons share that Meaney introduces the reader to her main characters.
These are Emily, Heather, Bill, and Astrid. The multiple points of view are woven together to convey a sense of community rooted in The Food of Love and their stories explore how chance encounters with strangers at a table shape their lives for the better.
The co-dining experience conjures images of blind dates and awkward encounters for Emily’s customers. However, Meaney’s characters get beyond their initial reservations and build strong friendships in the cosy restaurant.
The reader should avoid judging this book by its cover. The soft allure of the romantic jacket image with a table set for two, and the almost provocative tagline of 'For her, it was more than just a business’ appears to imply an amorous plotline which never fully materialises. Romantic love does feature in The Restaurant, but it is arguably secondary to the themes of kindness, friendship, isolation, and forgiveness.
The four main characters in the novel are likeable, making it easy for a reader to become invested in their lives. Each one is suffering their own pain silently, but this does not once inhibit them from showing kindness and empathy to their friends. They are good people, but there is not a great deal of difference between the individual narrative voices of her characters. Their backgrounds and the trials they face are diverse but this is insufficient to make them markedly different . The characters speak about their distinct lives with near-identical compassionate, kind voices, none dominant enough to make any particular one the main protagonist, or even more engaging than the next.
Read an extract from The Restaurant here
The eldest of the main characters, Astrid, is more complex simply by virtue of her background. An Austrian Jew who lived through the Second World War, her story is one of trauma and displacement. Echoes of Anne Frank’s diary are evident in Astrid’s story and the passages concerning her childhood are brilliantly evoked. The Restaurant, however, provides only brief glimpses into the annexed Austria of Astrid’s past and the psychological impact this had on the woman she became.
Meaney thus relegates a potentially more complex character to the safer realm of a kindly, but mysterious old woman. Meaney’s writing style is engaging and easy to read as she consistently strikes a balance between dialogue and interior monologue, which is particularly vital in a novel so focused on humans and their relationships with others.
The carefully interwoven lives of her characters call for a slight suspension of disbelief as they are all neatly bound together, the small town appearing oddly minute to the reader and appearing to consist of approximately twenty people. This is particularly noticeable as Meaney ties up loose ends in the final chapters. Coincidence draws together even the auxiliary characters associated with the main four, perhaps not an entirely impossible in an Irish town where everyone knows everybody else.
The conclusion does leave the reader with a pleasant sense of comfort as the isolated and lonely characters introduced in the opening chapters find their peace through the friendships they owe to The Food of Love. The Restaurant tells stories of kindness, friendship and comfort.
It is not simply a romantic novel, but a novel full of heart.