Reviews, Scottish Reads

The Second-Worst Restaurant in France

Renowned cookbook writer Paul Stuart, renewed and refreshed from his time in Tuscany, has returned to Scotland to work on his new book, The Philosophy of Food in Six Easy Chapters. Writing, though, is complicated by Paul’s changed domestic circumstances. His editor and new girlfriend, Gloria, has moved in with him despite not being specifically invited, and she’s brought her two rather demanding Siamese cats. When Paul’s cousin, Chloe, suggests Paul visit her in the French countryside, Paul jumps at the chance. However, once he arrives, he finds his fortunes tangled up with the infamous local restaurant that gives the book its title. In this story about a man who prides himself on his taste finding delight in the most unexpected places, we have Alexander McCall Smith at his most witty and charming.

This book was ok, I don’t think it was the best introduction to Alexander McCall Smith (it was part 2 in a series but I was advised it worked as a standalone). I do think that this book worked as a standalone since there didn’t seem to be many callbacks to the previous book and any references were either explained or needed no explanation.

The start of this book was set in Edinburgh with Paul trying and struggling to write his second book. I am someone who has many beginnings of novels but for various reasons just never get to the first draft, so I love books with struggling authors! The events leading to Paul going to France were very odd. I don’t know why he didn’t just tell Gloria how he felt instead of expecting her to read his mind regarding the cats. Just say something! Use your words Paul. Also his actions prior to going to France were just stupid. I didn’t get the best first impression of Paul.

As the book progressed, I found Paul as a character to be fine. He somewhat redeemed himself but was also quite a weak character in that he never stood up for himself, yet offered to stand up for someone else which was very nice. He was very intelligent and knowledgeable about cuisine. While Paul was the main character, Cousin Chloe was the most interesting part of this book. She reminded me of older relatives I have that when I was young, would tell me wild stories that definitely weren’t true but were exciting to tell to a child and I believed them at the time (I believe that my very dark haired and pale skinned uncle was He-Man until I was about 12, why would he lie?). I found her stories and claims to be so fun and I’d love to have heard more of her tales. How many of her stories were true? How many husbands were there really?

The nephew in the restaurant seemed sweet, I really had hopes for him. I don’t know if there’s a sequel to this book but if there is, I hope it’s about him. Claud was such a strange character as there seemed to be more to him than we got to know which was a little annoying. He seemed to be a bit of a tyrant but that didn’t come across in any of the story that he featured in. The twins honestly could have just been one character, they were very one dimensional and just didn’t feel relevant.

A lot seemed to almost happen in this book but very little actually did. There were a lot of times where the book felt like it was going in various directions but never did. I thought there was going to be some surprise espionage or underworld connections but nothing came to fruition. It was just a nice story about a restaurant that was really, really bad.

This book was fine. It wasn’t a bad book but it wasn’t amazing and I don’t know if I’ll remember it in a few weeks. It may pop into my mind the next time I buy mussels though! I gave this book 3 stars on Goodreads as I did enjoy parts of it and I did get a few chuckles. I have friends who adore this author so I will give them another shot, I think I just made a poor choice of starter novel (it was the first one my library had available). I have some recommendations for other Alexander McCall Smith books so this book hasn’t put me off.

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