Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Coffee At Little Angels - Nadine Rose Larter

When Phillip is tragically killed in a hit-and-run accident one morning, his group of friends from his teenage years return to their hometown, to reunite, lay past issues to rest, and say one last goodbye to their friend.

‘Coffee At Little Angels’ is the first novel by Nadine Rose Larter, which she has self-published. She found the inspiration for this book when one of her high school friends died in a car accident, and that coupled with the way she misses him formed the basis for this book. Although this is a sad, tragic way to come up with a plot, it actually works in the author’s favour as the book seems so personal and real. None of it seems made up, or as if Larter was imagining what it would be like or how someone would react – as a result, the story is so believable and the character-reader bond is strengthened tenfold.

Aside from Phillip, whose death is being mourned, there are seven other main characters, plus several peripheral characters such as wives, husbands, bosses, and so on. At first this was quite a struggle to cope with, as it’s many more main characters than I’m used to. Furthermore, there are two female characters, one called Maxine and one called Melanie, which I found difficult to tell apart at first. Having said that, each of the characters is introduced by Sarah near the beginning, as it clearly sets out who are the main characters, or rather, who were in the tight friendship group as teenagers. This makes it clear who is important, and after a while you begin to get to know the characters and it becomes clear who is who.

Each character is completely different, with each having loveable aspects and annoying features too! From overdramatic Melanie with her ‘too-perfect’ home life, to the super-desirable Josh, to Caleb, who is much quieter and tries to hide his interracial marriage, there really is a character for everyone. They are so different that I’m sure that virtually every reader will be able to find a character with whom they can identify, or at least find certain features in several characters which they understand. At the same time, they may be different, but it’s easy to see how such contrasted personalities could have fitted together to form such a tight-knit friendship group – I only have to look back at my own group of friends as a teenager to confirm that such differences are in fact possible! This is great, as the reader really gets to know each of the members of the group, and I would even go as far as saying as the group isn’t made up of just eight people, but rather it’s made up of nine – the reader joins the characters to form one more in their friendship group. Also, from what I know of her, I think there’s a little bit of the author in each character, which I think is charming as it seems so much more personal to her, and once again so much more real.

I would say that the plot is almost entirely character-based. The story begins with Phillip’s death, and ends not long after his funeral – the interim only spans a few days, so there isn’t really time for a huge plot to develop in between. However, I don’t think this is a problem, as the dynamics and relationships of the characters are so entwined and consuming that any complicated plot would just get in the way and detract from the story. There were a few times when there was a hint, a mere suggestion of some sort of twist or mystery to come (to do with how Phillip died), but these did not develop into anything further. I was a tad disappointed as that was something that could have been expanded on or developed into something bigger, but as I say, this is the type of story where you just want to read more and more about the characters, and anything more may have been overwhelming.

Obviously most of the themes within ‘Coffee At Little Angels’ are serious, but occasionally there are moments which are light-hearted and funny too. This really helped to lift the mood and turn the situation from a depressing one to something easier to cope with. In a similar way to many of the characters, at these moments I found myself feeling guilty for being amused at a time when there should be mourning, but actually I think we all (both myself and the characters included) realised that this isn’t necessarily always a bad thing.

I mentioned that the themes contained within are quite serious – clearly death is a major player, but at the same time so is life. At the same time, the story is about friendship and relationships, change over time, the past, memories, regrets and hope…but somehow these themes which I’ve mentioned don’t quite cover everything. They may be contained within the story, but just listing them doesn’t really do the book justice. I feel like there’s something else contained within, something glaringly obvious but which I can’t quite put my finger on…it’s more of a tone or a mood which naturally encompasses all of life’s challenges. ‘Coffee At Little Angels’ is very touching and poignant; it is a little sad at times, but more in a reminiscent way than a dreary, miserable one.

The author lives in South Africa, and there are a few South African references, although not many. Larter has said that there are very few proper nouns or place names on purpose, so that anybody, no matter who they are or where they live, might pick this story up and relate to it. However, there were just a couple of things South African – one example being Oros, an orange juice – which I understood as I used to live in South Africa and could recognise the names. For the most part, these references shouldn’t be a problem for most of you; I can count the number of occurrences on one hand, and I only thought I’d mention it in case you think it’s all made up!

In general, I would say that this is a good book, and I would recommend it. I didn’t really find it fun or enjoyable as such, more interesting and moving. It certainly makes you think about the relationships you have with your friends and family, and what to do with them while you still have the chance. I think it’s great that any reader should be able to dip into it and identify with both the story and the characters, as it means the author has managed to tap into such universal emotions. She has been successful in addressing very difficult topics, but ones which affect each and every one of us at some point, as well as the coming together of different people and cultures, which is no mean feat. If you’re interested in fast paced, fun, exciting stories then maybe you should leave this until another time, but if you’re in the mood for a heartfelt, emotional tale then this is a brilliant choice. This is the type of book that every person should read at some point in their lives or another, so give ‘Coffee At Little Angels’ a go!

Many thanks to the author for providing a copy for me to review :)
Summary: A very moving story
Rating: 4/5

3 comments:

  1. This one seems like a much heavier read than what you've reviewed so far. I think I've seen it a few times in the bookstore and have been curious, and now I think I'll go out a buy it. (:

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  2. Well Nic, I have often been asked by my friends who my characters are based on and not one of them has ever come to the conclusion that they are all based loosely on myself. Your intuition impresses me. Thank you for the lovely review. I do appreciate it much :)

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