The Waitress Was New

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 2)

In Dominique Fabre’s The Waitress Was New, the main character Pierre, a barman at Le Cercle, gives the reader a first-person account of the events that lead to the closing of the café. Pierre is fifty-six years old, he lives alone, and he has worked as a barman the greater part of his life. He has one good friend, Roger, also a barman. Although Pierre is an ordinary man who works at an ordinary job, Fabre captures readers’ interest by creating the special world in which Pierre lives. Pierre performs routine tasks every day; however, his life has significance as he interacts with his boss, his boss’s wife, the other employees, and the customers.

Pierre knows his clientele: He is not only a good listener but also, as every barman must be, a keen observer. Pierre provides the reader with detailed descriptions of the various regular customers and the ones who stop occasionally or only once. There is the young man always dressed in black, who reads Primo Levi. There is the regular Mr. Dilman, who has not paid his bill for some time. It is Pierre who takes care of the matter and remains on good terms with the customer while collecting the bill. There is the beautiful young woman whom Pierre notices walking outside the café. Pierre rarely looks outside, as he says what interests him is in the café, seated at the bar. Somehow, he had a need to look outside as she passed. She has a coffee at the café, and Pierre is very intrigued by her. He almost creates a fantasy about her, but, calling himself “Pierrot, my friend,” he tells himself that she is too young and too beautiful for him.

The plot of the novel is simple, almost thin. Sabrina, the regular waitress, is off work, supposedly ill. The temporary waitress, Madeleine, arrives and meets Pierre and Amadée the cook. The boss leaves the café that morning and does not come back. No one knows where he has gone. He is apparently having some sort of midlife crisis, and his wife Isabelle is disconsolate, fearing he has left her for another woman. How will the café run without the boss? Where is the boss?

Pierre is the cog that keeps everything running at the café. When Madeleine arrives, Pierre immediately looks her over, worried that things may not run smoothly with a new waitress. He is relieved when she appears to get along well with the Senegalese cook Amadée. As the day wears on, Pierre’s life becomes more and more complicated. Isabelle is so preoccupied with where her husband has gone that she is little help, leaving only Pierre, Madeleine, and Amadée to keep the café functioning. Pierre knows that without the boss, the café will have to close.

Pierre desperately needs the café; it is his life. He may just be a barman, but he is a barman with routine duties, with an organized existence that occupies his mind and protects him from life. Each night the café closes, but Pierre’s existence does not stop. It is at these moments that Fabre poignantly portrays Pierre assailed by his fears of aging, by loneliness, by helplessness, by the agonizing human condition.

Pierre must somehow get the boss back to the café. Pierre comes up first with the solution that Henri is with Sabrina. Isabelle has also thought of this possibility but refused to pursue it. Pierre goes to Sabrina’s apartment, where he finds she really is ill and the boss is not there. She admits to having an affair with Henri, but she has no idea where he is. Pierre then finds another solution: Henri has gone to visit his daughter in England. Isabelle, however, has talked to...

(The entire section is 1458 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 2)

Booklist 104, no. 8 (December 15, 2007): 27.

Kirkus Reviews 75, no. 24 (December 15, 2007): 1258.

Publishers Weekly 254, no. 42 (October 22, 2007): 33.

The Village Voice 53, no. 9 (February 27, 2008): 49.