Shops in Paris: Jenny Colgan’s Book Launch at WH Smith
In my work as a chocolate specialist and writer for Girl’s Guide to Paris, I am on a permanent quest for the best chocolate shops in Paris. So when Jenny Colgan, a best-selling writer of witty and heartwarming novels, whose work I have read and loved for years, invited me to the launch of her latest novel, The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris, I jumped at the chance. I was also keen to check out the venue, WH Smith. Dating back to 1903, it is the largest English-language bookshop in France, and is therefore one of the shops in Paris worth discovering.
A large and incredibly well-stocked store on rue de Rivoli, WH Smith fills two floors with every conceivable type of book, magazine and journal in English. Of course part of the charm of Paris is a wander along the Seine and a browse of the bouquinistes. But if your French doesn’t stretch to full-blown reading, it is a joy to find a shop in Paris that would have you dying to browse and read no matter what its location. In this store, among the old wooden stairways and well-ordered shelves, France and England sit cheek by jowl, with an unparalleled selection of items for the Anglophone Francophile.
The shop also runs a great program of events, the evening with Jenny Colgan being just one on a stellar list.
Jenny moved to France four years ago, and lives in Juan les Pins near the yachting set for which her husband works as an engineer. When I asked her why she chose to set her latest book in Paris, she confessed that while she loves Antibes, it is Paris that has an iconic place in people’s hearts and minds: “Paris has something quite special about it, a spirit that people like. You don’t need to have been here to want to go or to have a sense that you might like it.”
The Paris of the novel is rooted in her real knowledge of the city and France, but it is also a fantasy Paris, a wish fulfillment about finding one’s feet and a glorious new life in the city. And the chocolatier around which it is set, and in which the protagonist Anna learns about life, love and chocolate, is not based on any of the real shops in Paris.
Jenny’s favorite Parisian chocolatier is Patrick Roger, and to delight those having a book signed, and for those attending the reading to savor, there were some of his glorious chocolates. They set the mood beautifully. Jenny’s books frequently feature foodie subjects and even have lots of great recipes; however, she says, her own love affair with food is quite recent and something she has to thank France for.
It was the desire and need to feed three young children and adapt to a culture that doesn’t rely on convenience foods that led Jenny to begin her own adventures in cooking. She discovered what she sees is the crux of the cultural difference, and it struck her as so significant that she has made it one of the central subjects of her book. It is the French reverence for detail, the rigor with which they will do one thing and strive to do that to perfection. They allow the time to achieve mastery and would not dream of settling for second best. There is a line in the book that sums up this attitude, this difference of expectation: “You would rather have six bars of bad chocolate than one bar of good chocolate. Why? Why are six bad things better than one good thing? I don’t understand. We are not the same, you and I.”
A philosophy that runs through the veins of all the finest food emporia and chocolatiers in Paris.
In sum, The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris is a delightful and poignant book that is almost as good as a holiday in Paris. WH Smith is an absolute find if you want English-language books or magazines while in the city.
248, rue de Rivoli, in the 1st Arrondissement. 01 44 77 88 99.
Metro: Concorde (Line 12).
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