|Desire for Chocolate / Care Santos|
trans. from the Catalan by Julie Wark
Richmond, Surrey, UK: Alma Books, 2015, c2014.
I enjoyed this book, another told in three parts. I started it in July to prepare for the #WITMonth proceedings but I did find it slow going at first -- the first story was the least compelling for me, so I had to keep going and find my pace in the book. I did get there, and the next two parts were delightful.
The book is loosely based around a chocolate pot, just big enough for three cups.The book begins with the chocolate pot being knocked off a table and broken into pieces, and Max trying to fix it, and we follow this fateful pot to its origins through the stories to come. We are first introduced to it in a contemporary story of Barcelona, a love triangle of sorts featuring Sara, daughter of a chocolate making family, her husband Max and their friend (and Sara's sometime lover) Oriol -- they met in a chocolatier class as young people. It's told in the third person and is very modern and edgy. I wasn't taken with this story, and the affairs, and the sexual content, and the fixations of the various characters, so I did nearly put this down shortly after starting. But there was enough promise that I picked it up again and kept reading.
The second section goes back to the 19th C. where we meet Aurora, daughter of a maidservant who has a very unexpected life ahead of her. When her mistress runs off with another man, Aurora is cast out of the house under suspicion of aiding her -- untrue, and in her anger, Aurora takes with her the chocolate pot that she'd had to prepare for that feckless mistress each morning (and was fond of scooping the dregs out for herself later.) She guiltily tries to return it for years but no luck. Her new position is as housemaid to an eccentric doctor, and over the years they develop their own charming relationship, intellectual and emotional as well. I liked this story; interestingly, it's told in the second person, a hard thing to do, but it mostly works here.
And then the finale of the book takes us back to 17th C. Barcelona where Mariana, the wife of a famous chocolate manufacturer and official purveyor to the French court, is struggling to keep her business going in her husband's absence (pretty final absence though she is hiding that). A French delegation has come to Barcelona to find out the secret of the new chocolate mill that she has invented, carrying with them the gift of a chocolate pot made by a French princess. One of the delegates falls in love with Mariana despite himself, and this is the romance we follow. And of course, it's told in the first person. This story was swashbuckling, colourful, engaging, and lots of fun. It finishes with the moment of creation of our trusty chocolate pot, an object that now holds much more interest for the reader.
It was a risky choice to write this book in reverse chronology. The further back it went, the more interesting it got -- but I nearly didn't get there because the opening did not draw me in in the same way at all. I admired the concept though, and the decision to change the narrative perspective, too. Once I got into it, I enjoyed this book a lot, especially the second and third stories, and loved the overall arc of the narrative following an object. I did find that I had a craving for hot chocolate even in the heat wave that was occurring while I was reading this though, so beware!
I do recommend it, as it is clever, with lots of great detail, and a good concept. You might also like one story more than the others, but do give them all a chance, and you'll find they work together neatly.