I hadn’t read any Jenny Colgan books before this one, (I know, where have I been?) but everything I’d heard about them was good, and she is one of the funniest writers on Twitter, so when this popped through my letterbox I was delighted. The cover is sumptuous and the title is also appealing – who wouldn’t want to visit the loveliest chocolate shop in Paris?
The story, however, starts in a less than happy way. Anna Trent has suffered a horrific accident at work. She has a long recuperation ahead of her, and some big adjustments to make. While she’s recovering she encounters her old French teacher Claire, who is also in hospital. As Anna struggles to deal with what has happened and the future she must face, it is Claire who cheers her up, keeps her mind occupied and offers her an exciting - but terrifying - opportunity.
Stepping into a new life in a new country would be difficult for anyone, and Anna’s confidence is seriously low when she arrives in Paris. Still suffering physically and emotionally from her accident, she is faced with eccentric, fun Sami, whose cure for sadness is having a good time. And when she starts work at Le Chapeau Chocolat de Thierry Girard, the staff are equally uncompromising. Claire’s old flame, Thierry, makes sublime chocolates with an amazing reputation. They couldn’t be further from the chocolates Anna used to make in the factory in England, and she is forced to hit the ground running.
While Anna tries to find her feet in Paris, the book also follows Claire and Thierry in the 1970s, when he is at the start of his chocolate making career and she is a nanny to a family in Paris. The two stories balance each other perfectly, and it is lovely – and very poignant - to see Claire and Thierry as young and in love, in contrast to how Anna sees them, decades later, separated and struggling.
The descriptions of the chocolate crafting are amazing, and I challenge anyone who enjoys chocolate to read it without craving, and inevitably reaching for, something sweet and cocoa-infused - though you might be disappointed if it’s not a handcrafted truffle from the French capital. The characters are wonderful, from extrovert Sami and imposing but kind-hearted Thierry, to brooding Laurent and gentle, caring Claire who, as a teenager, is innocent, but determined to spread her wings. Anna’s kindness and resilience make her a loveable, real heroine who has to come through a lot to recover her confidence and a sense of belonging. The leading man is utterly disarming.
The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris is a fantastic, funny book with enough warmth, hilarity, sadness and romance to keep your emotions on a satisfying rollercoaster. Buy yourself a box of good quality chocolates, turn off the Internet and be prepared to get swept into the heart of Paris. Delicious.