In my search for books on or based in France, I was curiously surprised to find a book by Alexander McCall Smith. He of the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency fame. But the title intrigued me, The Second Worst Restaurant in France*.
I have read some of McCall Smith’s detective agency series, which are set in Botswana. His No. 44 selection, set in Scotland, is even better, to my mind. So curiosity abounded to find a book set in France.
The unique thing about McCall Smith is his eclectic spirit. You never quite know where he is going with his stories. They wrap the every day around a quirky focus. And the Second Worst Restaurant in France doesn’t disappoint. Heck, the title could have told you that. And the reason I for one felt a need to read it. (A prime example of title as click-bait.)
And luckily, the read of the book didn’t disappoint either.
The main character is rather dull, the steady hand at the tiller as we navigate through the story. He does pick up a bit as the book builds in interest and he begins to find his feet. But he makes a nice foil to the other collection of characters. Almost all burst on the scene is some interesting, quirky or emotional moment.
The Second Worst Restaurant in France isn’t so much about food, or eating, as about spirit of goodwill and helpfulness. And honestly, the story could almost be set anywhere, except the focus of the French and their passion for food does centre it well. It would not read so well or be so believable if it were, say, the second worst restaurant in Holland, in example.
In quick synopsis
Paul Stewart is a food book writer who is struggling with the book he is currently writing. Thanks to his cousin Chloe, he ends up in France and the village they are staying in boasts it has the second worst restaurant in France. Certainly not the worst. That is… somewhere else.
Very quickly the village life and its cast of characters sucks him in to their lives and problems. Next thing you know he is helping out at the restaurant and wondering if he can help make it better.
A truly eclectic, and quirky, read. In true McCall Smith style. And also fun. By the end I found I enjoyed this book of his most of all.
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