Janis has selected Javascotia for us to read. It is written by Minnesota author Benjamin Obler, a friend of hers who will attend our February meeting. How cool is that?
Review by ROGER COX
Obler must surely be a caffeine fiend like his hero, because his descriptions of the various incarnations of this beverage available in the UK before the advent of Starbucks are by far the best thing about this book. It seems hard to believe now, but in the mid-1990s nobody in this country had even heard of a skinny macchiato, so for the most part, British coffee is a big disappointment to Mel, either tasting like a combination of "spraypaint and tree bark" or coming in the form of liquid with a "coppery tinge" that "swishes limpidly like seawater" around his cup. From time to time, Mel stumbles across a coffee that could conceivably pose a threat to his client's all-conquering product - one, say, with a "stout aroma, thick consistency and full flavour, with hints of berry and a subtle tannic aftertaste like red wine". But these occasions are few and far between. The only way Mel can be certain of getting a decent cuppa is by making it himself, and while he is waiting for his own super-strong concoctions to brew, he talks in reverential tones about the "accumulation of the holy black syrup".
Mel's tranquil routine of trawling coffee shops and filing reports detailing their myriad failings is suddenly blown to smithereens when he becomes embroiled in the (real life, and failed) campaign to save Pollock Park from the M77, falling in love with Nicole and locking horns with her firebrand, eco-warrior boyfriend Ruaridh in the process. After snapping a picture of Tory MP "John Douglas" brandishing a pickaxe at protesters - a thinly veiled reference to real events concerning Eastwood MP Allan Stewart, who was forced to resign his ministerial post after just such an incident in 1995 - Mel and Nicole escape to the Highlands, where Mel finally feels able to tell her the improbable truth about his past life with Margaret.
Here, in this story within a story, Javascotia takes a turn for the serious, but it's all the better for it - by turns tragic, darkly comic, wise and true. And better yet, because Obler is writing about America, the twee "don't the Scotch say the funniest things?" moments dry up completely. It's a blessed relief.