Always say “behind” or “backs.”
Alcohol is an effective salve for the end of a stressful dinner service. Drugs are better.
As Monocle, the hero of Simon Wroe’s novel Chop Chop was bleeding in front of the mustard in the novel’s first act, I was already contemplating saying goodbye to the ergonomic Aeron chair and Excel spreadsheets that make up my day-to-day and returning to a life in which a fat Portuguese chef orders me out of his kitchen while I berate a fry cook for the impossibility of a 15-minute ticket time for an order of calamari that can be fully cooked in 45 seconds. Give me a line of coke and send me back into the game chef!
What I’m getting at is that Chop Chop could have been 400 plotless pages of kitchen-description and I would have a positive review because restaurants and the people who work in them are weird and wonderful and so much stranger and more entertaining than anything you can make up. While I’m happy for the comfortable hours and reasonable pay that come with my “grown-up job,” I miss the sweat and noise and pressure and personality of restaurants every day. Wroe’s treatment of the personalities in particular is masterful. Believe me that the person caramelizing the sugar on your creme brûlée is just as witty, crabby, perverted and proud as those in Wroe’s ‘tirade of chefs.’ Someone please buy these movie rights so we can go through the exercise of casting this colourful cast of characters. (Sacha Baron Cohen for Ramilov?) Wroe’s kitchen scenes have pace of a brunch service on mother’s day, led by a sous still grinding his teeth from last night’s bender. It’s good stuff and fun reading. The novel follows a young English Lit grad as he moves to London to write but winds up working in a kitchen to pay his rent. Hilarity ensues.
They’re not all kitchen scenes and halfway through the novel Monocle’s asides about his personal life get tiresome. In their notes on the text, Ramilov and Racist Dave (adding their thoughts on Monocle’s narration à la Van and Ada Veen) urge him to stick with the interesting bits and quit whining and I couldn’t help but agree. I was equally frustrated by the relationship of Monocle with his father. The father character is essential to the plot but his sticking around in London with his son for as long as he does didn’t read as realistic. A sane son would have asked the landlady to change the locks and been done with it.
Wroe redeems himself with a final act that the reader will not see coming. The novel transcends the strangeness of the restaurant kitchen and comes to a funny, morbid, satisfying close.
Note: The cover image is from the German edition of the novel but is far superior to the cover of the American edition so I’ve used it here.