'Tis the season when every pair of jeans you put on feels like a corset. It's quite simply not possible to stint on anything that makes life more comfortable when it's cold, wet and grey outside and the work inbox is continually full. Like food and chocolate. Merely the thought of cutting down on these delights instantly makes me hungry. Reading a book called The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris doesn't help.
First things first, though. I finished Gillespie and I last weekend and, though I was still very impressed by the author's story-telling, Harriet's personality doesn't become less of a problem as the stakes are raised and the reader starts to realise all she might - or might not - have done. On the contrary. She's a character who sticks in the mind, all right, but not in a pleasant way, and I'm not sure I found her altogether convincing. Because she faithfully produces damning testimonials against herself, then adds blustering and lame self-defences, you are inclined to believe that she has done most (if not all) the terrible things she's accused of. But if she has, that means she has at times been both clever and manipulative. The narrator of the "memoirs" and diary that make out the contents of Gillespie and I, though, appears both aggravating (so it's hard to imagine her successfully ingratiating herself left and right) and more than a little stupid. All right, you could argue that delusional people - and Harriet clearly is - can still be cunning in their own way. But I didn't quite buy it. Still, nothing wrong with the writing, and the climax of the story is pacy and gripping. I'll watch out for Jane Harris's next novel, but I hope it will be about something else than one-sided devotion bordering on - or striding across the border of - obsession. Both The Observations and Gillespie and I contain the neat twist that it's the object of devotion, rather than the smitten protagonist, who gets clobbered. It makes a change as fictional characters who are infatuated are mostly the ones who suffer most from their vain hopes, while the person who lets him/herself be loved remains pretty much unscathed. Nevertheless, another, less depressing theme would be nice.
And so on to Jenny Colgan's The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris, which isn't quite so carefree and frothy as it sounds (that would be hard), but still a satisfyingly feel-good read. There is romance in it, of course, but its main focus is on Having An Adventure and Broadening Your Horizons. Both the book's main character Anna and - forty years earlier - her French teacher Claire go to Paris for the mentioned adventure-having and horizon-broadening. What I like about Anna's storyline is that it doesn't make her exciting new life in Paris seem easy-peasy. It doesn't turn a blind eye to the fact that moving outside your comfort zone can be - well - uncomfortable. Anna's mostly work-related stresses, humorously told, are more engaging than Claire's traditional Paris love story in the Seventies. Learning to make great chocolate somehow seems more important than finding the perfect fella, which is rather unusual in a chick-lit novel. Another good book-soufflé maker, then, to be remembered when I look for light and airy travel fare - or just a pick-me-up after some overly serious Ambitious Book Project. But now I really must go and have some non-gourmet, industrially-made standard milk chocolate which would have the characters in Loveliest Chocolate Shop shake their heads in disgust.