It’s been a while since I’ve written a book review but I promise to keep it more consistent from now onwards. I recently read The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan while visiting my sister in Cape Town. I love reading chick lit on holiday and my sister recommended (and loaned me) this book.
As dawn breaks over the Pont Neuf, and the cobbled alleyways of Paris come to life, Anna Trent is already awake and at work, mixing and stirring the finest, smoothest, richest chocolate; made entirely by hand, it is sold to the grande dames of Paris.
It’s a huge shift from the chocolate factory she worked in at home in the north of England. But when an accident changed everything, Anna was thrown back in touch with her French teacher, Claire, who offered her the chance of a lifetime — to work in Paris with Claire’s former sweetheart, Thierry, a master chocolatier.
With old wounds about to be uncovered and healed, Anna is set to discover more about real chocolate — and herself — than she ever dreamed.
I’ve been to Paris twice already and I still haven’t ‘fallen in love’ with the city like most people do. I think it’s really a place you either love or hate so when I started reading the book, I already had reservations about enjoying it. The book is mainly written from Anna’s perspective with brief bits from Claire’s past and present.
The books starts off in a hospital in England after the protagonist (Anna) has an awful accident in the chocolate factory she works in and she loses a couple of her toes. The story takes a while to progress to her move to Paris. She meets her former French teacher Claire in hospital and the two get reacquainted. Claire, a cancer patient, starts teaching Anna French again to pass the time. She eventually arranges for Anna to move to Paris and work at Le Chapeau Chocolat, a chocolate shop owned by Claire’s first love – Thierry.
Once Anna and the story moves to Paris, the book is hard to put down. Anna moves in with the wonderfully crazy Sami (who in my opinion is the most loveable character in the book). She has to adjust to conversing in a new language, working for one of the world’s most famous chocolatiers and keeping her balance (quite literally). She meets Thierry’s son Laurent, through Sami, and they gradually become close throughout the story. They’re always meeting in situations that aren’t at all romantic and their different views and clashing personalities are quite evident to the reader. Anna also has to prove herself to her two co-workers and Thierry’s bitter wife, Alice.
I found it easy to relate to Anna’s character. Firstly like me, she’s 30 (I’m almost 30) and still trying to establish her talents and a career (apparently shopping for shoes is not a talent or a career lol). Her experiences with moving to a different country were also very realistic and reminded me of some of the crazy things that happened to me when I first moved to London from South Africa. I also loved how the romance between Anna and Laurent wasn’t instant but it developed over time.
Claire’s story takes place in the 70’s. She is a school girl being raised in a very conservative house with her Reverend father and her mother, whose hopes and dreams have been long shattered but she hopes to spare her daughter the same pain. She arranges to send Claire to au pair for her pen pal friend in Paris, Mme Lagarde. Claire is very shy and quiet when she first arrives in Paris but with the help of Mme Lagarde and falling in love with Thierry, she soon comes out of her shell. She goes back home to England after the summer and ends up marrying Richard and having two kids but she spends her life wondering what if…
In present day, Claire’s health deteriorates throughout the book and the final outcome becomes obvious. The theme of her story is that of living in the past and missing out on the present. Jenny Colgan adds several hints in the book that suggest that Claire’s life wouldn’t have been the way she imagined it if she ended up with Thierry and that she actually had her happy ending but she realises and accepts this a little too late.
The book is heartwarming, realistic, funny, sad and for someone who has experienced moving to a new foreign city, very true to the experience. It’s about never settling for less but also accepting the past. The two English women are similar in that they want more out of life and they refuse to accept limitations. Claire wants Anna to live her life without regret like she did. In a way, Anna is living the life Claire wanted to live.
This is the first book I’ve read of Jenny Colgan and I love the way she describes the city and the food. It made me very hungry and even made me want to visit Paris one more time…
While the ending was a bit short and didn’t personally give me enough closure, the wonderful recipes at the back of the book more than made up for it. I will be trying them soon and publishing the outcome on the site. Stay tuned!
Read an extract of the book here.