The Discovery of Chocolate
Although it is true that I have been considered lunatic on many occasions in the last five hundred years, it must be stated, at the very beginning of this sad and extraordinary tale, that I have been most grievously misunderstood. The elixir of life was drunk in all innocence and my dog had nothing to do with it.
Let me explain.
Having once embarked on a precarious and often dangerous quest, I have now been condemned to roam the world, unable to die. I have lost all trace of my friends and family and have been separated from the only woman that I have ever loved. And although it might seem a blessing to be given the possibility of eternal life and to taste its delights without end, taking pleasure where one will, living without judgement or morality, it is, in fact, an existence of unremitting purgatory. I cannot believe that this has happened to me and have only decided to tell my story so that others who might seek to cheat death and live such a life should be alert to its dangers.
My troubles began at the age of twenty when I, Diego de Godoy, notary to the Emperor Charles V, first crossed the Atlantic as a young man in search of fame and fortune. The year was fifteen hundred and eighteen.
Of course it was all for love.
The Discovery of Chocolate is a comic, philosophical love story about one man’s five hundred year obsession with love and chocolate.
Twenty year old Diego de Godoy travels from Spain to Aztec Mexico with the conquistadors. But instead of coming back with gold he returns with chocolate and discovers that both he, and his greyhound Pedro, have accidentally drunk the elixir of life at the same time.
As a result they are condemned to travel through time, unlucky in life and in love, but ever hopeful that one day they will understand the meaning of their journey.
I had originally planned to write a series of short stories, one for each century, connected by chocolate but with different characters and different moments in time. But then I thought that they might be able to have the same narrator, a character who travelled through history, and across all the stories but to do this the character would have to live for perhaps 500 years.
Then it struck me.
I would write about a character who suddenly realised that he might be unable to die.
The novel would be about the difficulties of an everlasting life on earth its potential for loneliness as friends die and the hero continues - the slow and seemingly unending sense of time and the ultimate need and desire to die.
The novel would perhaps be filled with the notion that the idea that of NOT dying could, perhaps, be worse than dying itself.
It would be a novel about the need for readiness, and for acceptance. It would be about the need for calm, and the ability to look death in the face without fear.
Ripeness is all.
So these became my basic ingredients. Life and death, love and chocolate.
Chocolate is the quintessential indulgence. Both Casanova and The Marquis de Sade used it as the main elements of their seductive repertory; Madame du Barry gave it to all of her lovers as a thank-you present. Queen Victoria was so obsessed with its life enhancing properties that she sent five hundred thousand pounds of chocolate to her troops one Christmas. The French courtesan Mme de Sevigny, a pronounced lover of chocolate once remarked; “It flatters you for a while; it warms you for an instant; then, all of a sudden, it kindles a mortal fever in you.”
Chocolate has a fascinating and varied history. The seventeenth century English diarist Samuel Pepys used it as a hangover cure after over-enthusiastically celebrating the coronation of Charles II. Quaker families such as the Rowntrees, the Cadbury’s and the Fry’s, believed it to be a most potent weapon in the Temperance Movement. In the eighteenth century, Dr Blancardi, a Dutchman with more mundane ambitions, recommended it as a cure for bad breath. It is, also, I am afraid to note, a most trusted guide for disguising poison, and the seventeenth century Bishop of Chiapas was an early victim of death by chocolate as was Pope Clement XIV.
It has been called the prozac of plants, and it was in the nineteenth century that the ability of chocolate to provide a quick energy boosts was made democratic and available by the introduction, at last, of the chocolate bar. And it was in England, under those Quaker families, Fry, Cadbury and Rowntree, that chocolate is used in the temperance movement and as a force for social good.
Once it becomes a bar, then it is democratized, an affordable luxury you only need one chocolate to get the sense of decadence inside you.
And so it’s a strangely paradoxical substance - associated both with temptation and with temperance, with luxury and also with democracy, freely available and yet peculiarly exclusive.
I thought this might be away of thinking about both pleasure and restraint, life and death, love and chocolate.
SHOULD I READ IT?
Here’s an extract from the review Joanne Harris, the author of Chocolat, wrote in The Times:
“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.”