The Chocolate Tin
Set during the First World War in the medieval chocolate-making city of York in England’s north, Fiona McIntosh’s The Chocolate Tin is a superb romantic historical fiction novel that perfectly encapsulates the varied experiences during wartime and the constraints of 1900s English society.
The Chocolate Tin focuses on forthright twenty-something, Alexandra Frobisher. A modern woman in a traditional, wealthy family, Alex aspires to contribute to the war effort by working in York’s famed Rowntree chocolate factory. However, she is bound by her duty to her family and her social standing. Lady Minerva and Lord Charles Frobisher believe that their daughter’s career is to be a wife and mother and that any ‘association with the factory floor will not do’. To put an end to the arguments, the family agree that six weeks after the war has ended and peace is regained, Alex must choose a man to marry and announce their engagement.
Enter Matthew Britten-Jones, an affluent, well-connected man, who is working on the homefront and affiliated with Rowntree’s factory. Much like Alex, he is also being pressured by his family and believes that marriage could be mutually beneficial, despite the absence of love. What unfolds is a tale that reaches from the factories of York to the battlefields of France, love triangles, a serviceman determined to return a dead soldier’s belongings, and a special note in one of Rowntree’s chocolate tins.
The novel’s strengths lay in McIntosh’s impeccable attention to detail. Her collaboration with historians who specialise in war history and British railways, and have access to Nestle’s archives is evident throughout the book, and her personal travels to York and France have clearly informed her writing. Sensory experiences are threaded throughout the novel, as the ‘familiar smell of sugar and the burnished aroma of cocoa’ is contrasted with the ‘dreaded smell of cordine mixing with human waste and all things rotten’ and the harsh realities of trench warfare.
As an avid fan of history, I appreciated the amount of research that was involved in The Chocolate Tin, and despite the book’s 1900s setting, the major themes throughout the novel are still relevant today. This was the first novel by Fiona McIntosh that I have read, and I am very interested in looking into her other works.
Emily Pullen, WHSmith Australia