The Coffee Story by Peter Salmon
Teddy Everett is dying. We are with him, as he lies inert and helpless on his death bed, in some vile hospital, as he muses on the life he’s had, the life he had thrust upon him. A life, not so much flashing, as ping-ponging back and forth through time, and flipping like a pinball twixt event, action and catastrophe. Like your narrative straight and linear? Hold on tight, it’s going to get bumpy. Teddy is everything your average cuddly, gentle, slightly left-of-centre bookish type of person loves to hate: rich, capitalist, amoral, self-centred dipsomaniac, and a lothario. Worse still, the money is all inherited. So why is he so damn likeable?
Teddy is a coffee magnate; last in the long line of an overbearing colonial plunder and bluster lineage. Flay the skin off ’em, and take home the profit … that sort of thing. From Ethiopia in the 30s to Cuba in the 50s, Teddy spins a tale of a life of spoilt decadence, over-imbibing, sex and violence. All the fun things. All your favourite elements are here. Exotic locations. Communist Revolutionaries. Crazy ex-wives. Repulsive relatives. Unrequited Love. (Lucy where are you?) Coffee … And humour. While the book ruminates on many a historical detail (I learned more about colonial East Africa here than I have in a lifetime), matters political, personal – and even occultic – Mr Salmon writes in a style that is so lyrical and humorous, that one cannot help but like our protagonist, scoundrel that he is.
For all that the story is simply about what a dying bloke is thinking, it is also a smack to the back of the head of conventional storytelling – and very very funny. Listen: Think maybe Vonnegut. Maybe Doctorow. And Groucho.
Garry Mansfield is from Readings Carlton.