Sep 24 2008
Dear Mr. Capella,
Whereas “The Wedding Officer” was a mix of historical and romance, “The Various Flavors of Coffee” is more historical with some romance and that not very satisfying to me. Yes, yes I should be reviewing what’s actually there and not what I wanted to be there but….
Robert Wallis changes as he matures and just as the initial chapter of the book promises us. There was much about him in his youth that I didn’t particularly care for. He drank, he took drugs, he visited prostitutes, he didn’t want to work and frankly was looking for the easy way out. Yet as he says, none of this was illegal then and much was treated as normal for him as a man and as an artiste. Strange that as the restraints of the Victorian Age were cast aside for the bawdiness of the Edwardian Age, Robert becomes more circumspect. The various flavors of coffee can be likened to the various flavors of love. Robert loves three women – three very different women. One used him, one stayed his friend and one became his lifelong love.
The construction of the Wallis-Pinker coffee codifier was fascinating. I can tell I don’t have a coffee palate yet am in awe of people who can discern the slightest differences in taste, aroma and mouth feel. However, I find the spitting aspect of coffee tasting (or any tasting for that matter) off putting. Sometimes I debate whether or not I should go spend the money for freshly roasted, primo coffee beans, then usually decide that I’m looking for the jolt in the java rather than an aesthetic experience. Yes, I’m a Philistine.
The letters Robert writes home on his way to set up a coffee plantation in Africa were hysterically funny. His adventures once there are fascinating yet this section ends up being extremely PC Mother Earth with the differences between Hector and Robert hammered home to be sure we Get It. And I’m wondering where the zar woo-woo stuff comes from. As well the bits about slavery vs being a company employee in debt for life were very obvious.
I despise most modern advertising so it was with wry humor that I read the early Castle Coffee ads. Yeah, make the women in the world feel like hopeless inadequates if they are not serving Castle Coffee or taking care of the ‘ring around the collar’ of their family’s clothes. Was this really the age where branding and product were born? And how about the beginning of Sainsburys and Lipton tea?
The diagnosis of “Hysteria” that Emily is given is such a face slapping reminder of the advances in modern medicine. To think that doctors once got paid, and apparently paid rather well, to induce orgasms to calm women down is mind blowing. Today we can just turn to our trusty rabbits and save the office visit. Did their husbands really realize just what they were paying the medical community to provide for their wives? Jaysus…. Emily’s participation in the Suffragette movement also reminds me how fortunate women are today – well, most women – to not even think about their right to vote. The Walt Disney song might sound light hearted but the sufferings of those fighting for women’s rights were real.
The various maneuverings of Mr. Pinker and Mr. Howell gave me a greater understanding of futures trading than I’ve had before. I also continue to feel disgust for conglomerates, market cornering and the other iron fisted business dealings of huge companies out to make the almighty profit at the expense of anyone or anything that stands in their way.
Where did ending come from? I mean, talk about left field….it feels tacked on and such a 180 degree change from the more somber feeling of the last part of the book. It does echo the lighter feel of the start of the novel but the abrupt change makes it jarring and out of place.
And I still can’t quite grasp how this all fits together. The differing parts were entertaining – coffee, Africa and the suffrage movement – but I never got as lost in the story as I did in “The Wedding Officer.” It was more a feeling of, “Oh, well that’s interesting.” instead of, “Wow, this is fantastic!” And while reading the book, I couldn’t get Frank Sinatra singing “The Coffee Song” out of my head.
I know I shouldn’t judge a book based on what I wanted to be there vs what an author actually wrote but I can’t help but be disappointed in the romance. There is one, actually more than one, actually more than two but none of them left me with the happy feeling of your last book. Perhaps if readers go in the book knowing this – that it’s more a historical fiction rather than a romance, their enjoyment will be higher than mine. B