6th May 2016: Those of us at this meeting were Kathryn, Theresa, Jo, George, Sally, Lee and Lara and two new members to Louth Literary Coven, Anna and Gini. Jo was hosting this time and we settled down as usual with a good selection of drinks (alcoholic and non!) and some tasty snacks. After some introductions and a quick catch up we turned to talking about the book although as usual conversation did stray to wider subjects including how George’s husband had once “accidentally” bought a car on Ebay!
We came to The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemmingway with a few preconceptions having previously read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, a fictionalised history of Hemmingway’s marriage to Hadley Richardson. This was certainly reflected in our discussion.
The Sun Also Rises is the story of a group of ex-patriots living in Paris and their trip to the fiesta in Pamplona via a fishing trip in the Pyrenees. It is based on real events and characters and our first reaction, not surprisingly was “Talk about autobiographical!”. Within this broad arc the detail is about relationships and the involvement of three of the men with one woman. Lots of familiar characters fromThe Paris Wife but with one striking omission – his wife Hadley. It was interesting then that although she had left him and filed for divorce by the time this book was published, he dedicated the book to her and their son and made over the royalties from the book to her too.
We all felt that there were no likeable characters, it had been hard to identify with them or feel anything for them. “Just annoying posh people” was one impression. George commented that Hemmingway “didn’t give you anything from anyone” – it was about “what they do, not what they feel.” Kathryn felt the style was in stark comparison to our last read My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante which was full of “emotion and honesty.” But despite the “sparse” emotional description we felt that you still got the sense of the emotions from the dialogue. We speculated on the impotence of the main character and whether it was an analogy for his not feeling, or having any emotion and whether the style and lack of emotional description made Hemmingway more of a ‘man’s’ author.
Anna described his style as “very dry”. We agreed that his short sentences made it difficult to read but that there were some “amazing descriptions” and his ability to convey so much with so few words was impressive. The descriptions of Spain and the bull fighting were especially good.
Jo thought it wasn’t a “book to pick up on a night time” but more of a “daytime book” as it was more challenging and she felt like she was in a “black hole” when reading it. The dark references continued…it was like “an opera full of depressing music and then the violins come in”, with the only the fishing trip descriptions bringing light relief.
With regards to the ending, the general view was that it was a little unsatisfactory and we had just been presented with a “snapshot” of the “Lost Generation” of the inter-war period. So would we recommend The Sun Also Rises as a book club read? Gini, who hadn’t had the chance to read the book, said that having listened to what everyone had said she was not keen to read it. However, everyone that had read the book said they would recommend it – even if just for “the experience!”
So matching the chocolate to The Sun Also Rises. A brilliant opportunity to explore the Cocoa Runner’s library of makers!
I started with Hemingway: an American, a writer, a traveller and ‘aficionado’ and I found American bean to bar maker, Brian Frick at Pitch Dark. He’s young, he’s accomplished, he’s rowed the Indian Ocean and lived alongside cacao farmers in Fiji. He was the best match for our young ‘aficionado’ Hemingway I thought. And on top of all that, his packaging is clean, understated and reminiscent of the twenties.
The trip to Pamplona and the bullfighting then led me to fourth generation Spanish makers Blanxart. My final pairing was a little less obvious but I couldn’t resist the evocative packaging of the Labooko bar by Zotter and the intensely masculine dark milk bar seemed perfect. It felt quite decadent and a good match for Hemingway’s lost generation.
Pitch Dark Ecuador Floral 73%
My first choice was the Ecuador floral really because it is made with beans from the Camino Verde plantation like the Duffy’s Corazon Del Ecuador from our last tasting. First impressions were good, ‘earthy first, then creamy’. Creamy but with a strangely pleasing and slightly grainy texture although Gini found it a little dry for her taste. Comparing it to Duffy’s Ecuador bar, it wasn’t as ‘chocolately’ but it was ‘different’, subtle and interesting. ‘Aniseed’ and ‘liquorice’ were mentioned but not the characteristic ‘floral’ we were looking for…we are really struggling to pick out floral flavours somehow. Something to work on perhaps. A slightly astringent finish was agreed upon with good lingering flavours. A very promising start.
Pitch Dark Nicaragua Rugoso 80%
I chose this bar on basis of the Cocoa Runners review. They described it as an ‘exceptional bar’ and a ‘firm favourite’. The Pitch Dark website also said it was probably the ‘most favoured bar’. I hoped it would live up to its reviews, especially since it cost £8.95 for a 52.7g bar! We all enjoyed the rich chocolately aroma and initial thoughts were that it rich and smooth with a distinctive caramel flavour. Then came the fruit. We started off with ‘definitely something fruity’ and progressed to ‘strawberries on the back of the tongue’. We didn’t all get the strawberries but agreed it was richly fruity and very intense with long lasting flavours. Absolutely delicious with a lot going on. £8.95 seemed expensive but when we compared it to a bottle of wine we thought the intensity of flavour made it worth it.
Blanxart Filipinas Organic 44%
Despite the Spanish connection this was perhaps the least well matched to the book. It was far too familiar and comforting. The only passage in the book we found even vaguely comforting was the fishing trip before the Fiesta and the tranquility was short- lived. The Blanxart chocolate in comparison was completely heart-warming. It smelt reassuringly good. Then the taste was just so pleasing. It was ‘mouth watering’ and melted beautifully in the mouth. We found we were describing the sensation more than the flavours and got a little distracted with the intense sweetness but decided it was a honey sweet rather than a sugary sweet. Like drinking a good hot chocolate but with an almost clean citrus finish. We all agreed it was lovely apart from Teresa of course, as she doesn’t eat milk chocolate!
Zotter Labooko Milk ‘Dark Style’ 70%
This bar was a bit of a risk. 70% milk chocolate with no sugar. I had no idea what to expect from this one but is was just such a good match to the book. Everyone seemed quite enthusiastic so we gave it a go. Despite the milk, it had a dark aroma. Then it felt smooth, milky and creamy. Anna made us all smile with her description of a masculine and ‘leathery’ taste. That just seemed to hit the nail on the head! George thought it was a complete ‘paradox’. You are expecting dark and it feels like milk, there is not sugar but you can taste sweetness. Jo said that for the first time since doing the tastings, she felt like she had to chew it to get to the flavour. We found we were searching for the sweetness and the flavours were dulled by the milk. It also had quite an oily finish but actually we quite liked it…apart from Gini who was quite adamant that it was just ‘horrible’! So definitely worth a try and a good companion to The Sun Also Rises.
The bars we would most like to take home this time are:
Gini, Anna – Blanxart Filipinas
Jo, Lee, George, Kathryn – Pitch Dark Nicaragua Rugoso
Lara, Theresa – Pitch Dark Ecuador Floral
Sally – Zotter Labooko Dark Milk
For the our next get together we have chosen to read a thriller – Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin…so the chocolate will have to include something dark and floral.