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Paris! Chocolate! What an irresistible combination! And so it is this delightful book, The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by well-known romance writer, Jenny Coglan.
Jenny Coglan has written a number of thoughtful romances that are well researched, but this is my favourite.
The story tells of the parallel experiences of Paris and of love in Paris of two naïve English girls.
In the summer of 1972, Claire Forest goes to Paris as an au pair for the La Garde family. There she falls in love with the young chocolatier Thierry Girard. When we first meet Claire, it is forty years later and she is divorced from an Englishman, with two adult sons and suffering terminal cancer.
The contemporary story tells of Anna Trent, who is in hospital after an accident in the chocolate factory where she works. She has lost two toes in the accident. Anna becomes the protégé of Claire Shawcourt while they are in the hospital and to stave off the boredom of hospital, Claire starts to teach Anna French again. Claire had been Anna’s teacher at school. Anna had left early. The working class town where they both live had been voted ‘Worst Town in England’ in a newspaper poll for thirty years running.
Claire eventually finds Anna a job in Thierry’s establishment as kitchen hand and also finds her accommodation with the larger than life Sami. And so begins unsophisticated Anna’s exposure to Paris.
This is the Paris of the tourist brochures. 1972 is not so long after the student riots of 1968, and the 2012 Paris in the book, has none of the problems of African migration then besetting Paris. Still, it’s a lovely Paris – cafes, gardens, the Tower, elegant clothes and manners, sophistication in relationships.
The chocolate making is described in detail and the description of the boutique chocolates made me want to rush down to our own chocolate shop where the owner tells me chilli chocolate is his most popular item. As a bonus, there are recipes featuring chocolate at the end of the book.
There is a great deal of humour in the book from bizarre situations usually involving Sami, the costume designer for the Paris Opera, to Anna’s observations on her life. I respect the author’s research into the emotional reaction to accidents and a long term stay in hospital. Anna’s reactions are, in my experience, very true.
The relationships in the book are beautifully realised. There is the excitement of the young romances with all their agony and joy. Steady older relationships are shown in a very positive light. The men in this romance are fully drawn characters, with great strengths. Both women and men make mistakes in relationships and both face the consequences. There is no magic wand here, but Anna’s love at the end gives hope, as all romances should. The rocky road of parental relationships are also well realised.
This is an enjoyable read, lighthearted in some ways, but it also leaves the reader with some thoughts to ponder.
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