For some reason known only to my subconscious, I began reading The Empty Café under the
impression that it was a novel. It was only on coming to what I took to be the second chapter that I recognised it as a volume
of short stories, the title of the book being also the title of the penultimate tale. Discovering my error was something of
a relief - in the past, my own prejudices have caused me to avoid short stories, and this is the first work of its genre to
appear on these review pages.
There was nothing about the cover to give away the contents. Although not unpleasant to look
at, it does little to attract the casual browser (this is a professionally-produced print-on-demand book from a specialist
publisher), a characteristic I can't help regarding as a disadvantage, regardless of the fact that it is not designed to be
seen on bookshop shelves. Michael Hoffman is admittedly a successful journalist and an experienced story-writer, but he is
hardly so famous that his work requires no outward advertisement.
Mr Hoffman's style is not "literary"; it is conversational, and for that reason the sections
told in the first person work particularly well, the third-person narratives less well. It appears that, despite the success
he has already enjoyed, he doesn't always recognise - or play to - his own strengths.
As far as plot goes, whilst I will admit to being a novice in terms of short-story technique,
the individual elements of this collection strike me as particularly imaginative. The characters and situations are drawn
from the author's own full and varied life. As a Canadian who has lived in the Far East, he uses locations with which he is
familiar. One story is set in Japan, another in Bangkok, underlining the contrasting thought processes of eastern and western