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‘Before the Coffee Gets Cold’ by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

If I had to name one genre that I struggle with more than any other, science fiction would be it. Kawaguchi’s series about a cafe called Funiculi Funicula in Tokyo is plainly science fiction, but it had been recommended so many times that I thought I’d give it a go.

This first in the series was a play in 2010, published as a novel in Japan in 2015, and an English translation by Geoffrey Trousselot was published in 2019.

The conceit is very silly. Funiculi Funicula has a particular seat whose occupants can time travel, though only once in their lifetime. They cannot move from the seat, and they return to the present once they finish their coffee—which they must do before it gets cold. Oh, and most crucially, nothing they do while time travelling can affect the present in any way. In this volume, four people make a journey through time.

For the most part, the tone of the book is warm and light: it has an awareness of the silliness of its premise, and there’s a weary humour about it within the dialogue. But there are passages that are deeply moving, events and moments of realisation that hit with surprising heaviness and melancholy.

This isn’t really a book about time travel: it’s a book about leaving the past behind, making the most of the present and embracing the future. It’s to no-one’s benefit to live in their past and thereby become a ghost in the present.

I thoroughly enjoyed this. There are three sequels which have already been published, and another due in September. I will look out for all of them.

Water flows from high places to low places. That is the nature of gravity. Emotions also seem to act according to gravity. When in the presence of someone with whom you have a bond, and to whom you have entrusted your feelings, it is hard to lie and get away with it. The truth just wants to come flowing out. This is especially the case when you are trying to hide your sadness or vulnerability. It is much easier to conceal sadness from a stranger, or from someone you don’t trust.

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