What delicious ingredients James Runcie has blended together in his first novel, The Discovery OF Chocolate
--a picaresque, time-travelling journey of self-discovery. Told by the Spaniard, Diego de Godoy, accompanied by his faithful greyhound Pedro, Diego wanders the world, like Don Quixote bereft of his Dulcinea, in search of his beloved Ignacia--and the perfect chocolate.
In 1518 the 20-year-old Diego leaves Seville bound for Mexico where he joins Cortes's conquistadors and falls in love with the beautiful Ignacia. When Diego is ordered back to Spain, Ignacia gives him a parting gift: a chocolate drink, the elixir of life, and the promise that "If you are alive, then I am alive. Never cease in your search for me." But, returning to Mexico, he finds only her grave and so begins his wanderings, sometimes dictated by the forces of history, sometimes by his own whims. Through "an eternity of travel", he and Pedro reach Chiapas, the city of Ignacia's birth, where he discovers that time has slipped by a century.
Full of incident made more piquant by the introduction of significant figures along the way, Diego soon finds himself locked in the Bastille. It's 1788 and he swaps chocolate recipes with the Marquis de Sade. Then on to Vienna to create sachertorte. Fervent with questions, yet filled with despair about life's meaning, he begins his weekly visits to Freud. And all the while, his droll scrapes punctuate his slightly overdone gloom. On board ship to America, Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas solace him with talk of love and food. The early 1900s find him once more in Mexico, a man old in wisdom, but still virile in his ways.
Runcie's novel is a charming addition to the hunger for chocolate in all literary forms. This is storytelling whisked into a pleasurable mix but perhaps offers more instant gratification than lingering after-taste. --Ruth Petrie
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
‘The Discovery of Chocolate is as intoxicating and addictive as the substance it describes. The novel is a triumph of inspired imagination…’
‘The Discovery of Chocolate is a sensual delight which does not take itself too seriously and leaves a lingering sweetness in its wake. More books should be like this; elegantly written, unpretentious and unashamed fun.’
Joanne Harris, The Times