Review: ‘The Discovery of Chocolate’ by James Runcie

By oldenglishrose - Last updated: Friday, August 20, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

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.  (Goodreads Summary)

This book had an interesting premise but sadly never quite delivered in the writing. A Spanish conquistador falls in love with a Mexican girl, but circumstances drive them apart. When he leaves, she gives him a drink of enchanted chocolate which extends his life and slows his aging to allow him to return to her at a time when they can be together. Consequently, he wanders through time with Pedro, his greyhound companion, in search of chocolate and love. However, far more time and attention is given to the chocolate in this book. The descriptions of chocolate making, baking, experimenting and eating are rich and sensuous and instantly made me hungry. In fact, the food writing is what makes this book interesting to read.

The remainder of the plot does not fare so well. The time travel element, surely an essential part of the plot, was made to seem almost incidental and there was no attempt to make it either logical or consistent. That the main character did not react with any surprise or disorientation to the completely unpredictable passage of time, and so it comes across as a lack of development on the part of the author rather than a deliberate device. The characters were mostly undeveloped, but this bothered me less than I expected as their appearances in the narrative were so fleeting. I did enjoy Diego’s brushes with real historical figures, painfully contrived as they were, but they seemed an incidental rather than integral part of the story. Not enough was made of them, often they were unrelated to either love or chocolate, and so they did not really fit into the rest of the narrative. Ultimately, I suppose it’s difficult to write an interesting account of a man who very rapidly finds his own life uninteresting and repetitive.

The Discovery of Chocolate by James Runcie.  Promotional edition free with the Times.  Originally published in 2001.

N.B. This is an old review written in 2010 and posted on Goodreads and LibraryThing before I started keeping track of all the books I read here at Old English Rose Reads.  I’ve decided to keep copies here so that this remains a complete record of my reading since I started reviewing books for my own pleasure.

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