Chocolat by Joanne Harris – Book Review
Chocolat by Joanne Harris – Reviewed by Stacey
Author – Joanne Harris
Publisher – Black Swan
Pages – 320
Release date – 4th March 1999
When an exotic stranger, Vianne Rocher, arrives in the French village of Lansquenet and opens a chocolate boutique directly opposite the church, Father Reynaud denounces her as a serious moral danger to his flock – especially as it is the beginning of Lent, the traditional season of self-denial.
As passions flare and the conflict escalates, the whole community takes sides. Can the solemnity of the Church compare with the sinful pleasure of a chocolate truffle?
The wind blew in the direction of the tiny french village of Lansquenent-Sous-Tannes on the 11th February, Shrove Tuesday. The village carnival was in full swing ready for lent. Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk (thats what they were calling themselves this time), along with Anouk’s imaginary rabbit friend Pantoufle, arrived to join in the celebrations.
The village was so small that if you blinked you could miss it. It was located somewhere between Toulouse and Bordeaux. In the heart of the village stood the bright whitewashed building of the village church, Saint Jérôme. The church priest was Father Francis Reynaud.
Anouk desperately wanted to stay in the village and Vianne gave in to her demand. She leased the old empty bakery facing the church, which would become ‘La Céleste Praline’ chocolate boutique. Vianne made all the chocolates for her boutique by hand, with a special something added. With the ability to know the desires and secrets of the towns folk and the knowledge of which chocolates would be her customers favourite before they did, some might call her a witch.
Opening a chocolate shop at the start of lent gave Monsieur Reynaud enough evidence to deem Vianne and her daughter evil. He didn’t like outsiders coming to his village and especially those that would not attend church. Reynaud decided that he wanted her gone from his town, in fact he didn’t just want her gone but needed her to go. If it meant using underhand tactics to drive her out of the village then so be it, and he had lots of loyal parishioners who would help him. He didn’t however expect Vianne to fight back. A fight between good and evil was fought, but which side was evil really standing on?
Joanne has managed to create a novel that doesn’t feel right being placed into one particularly genre. The book is very thought provoking and you not only get to read the battle between Vianne and Reynaud, but also feel the tension that is created in the book between Christianity and Paganism.
Vianne is a mysterious woman, with an air of magic surrounding her. Her love for others shines right off the page and you get the sense that she is running from something and that she and Anouk move from place to place a lot. She never opens up fully to anyone about who she is and where they have come from.
The book is captivating and unique. It draws you right in to the heart of the story and into the tiny French village, with its vivid scenery, colours, smells and even the taste of the chocolates that Vianne makes. There are a lot of diverse characters throughout the book, all with their own personal story to tell. The narrative is told from both Vianne and Reynaud’s opposing views, which gives you an insight in to each side of their story.
Monsieur Reynard is a man of the church, but his actions are anything but holy. He comes across as this bitter, resentful man, stuck in a time warp and not allowing the village to move with the times. He is one character that I really found hard to like, yet I understood him fully.
This was the first book by Joanne Harris that I had read and it had me gripped firmly to the pages and truly had me absorbed in every detail of the plot. I could feel Vianne’s warmness towards others, even those who opposed her. She is a wonderfully created character, and different from most protagonists. A truly remarkable book that I have had the honour of reading more than once.
Reviewed by Stacey
Joanne Harris (MBE) was born in Barnsley in 1964, of a French mother and an English father. She studied Modern and Mediaeval Languages at Cambridge and was a teacher for fifteen years, during which time she published three novels, including Chocolat (1999), which was made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp.
Since then, she has written 15 more novels, two collections of short stories and three cookbooks. Her books are now published in over 50 countries and have won a number of British and international awards. She is an honorary Fellow of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, has honorary doctorates in literature from the universities of Sheffield and Huddersfield, and has been a judge for the Whitbread Prize, the Orange Prize, the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science.
Her hobbies are listed in Who’s Who as: “mooching, lounging, strutting, strumming, priest-baiting and quiet subversion of the system”, although she also enjoys obfuscation, sleaze, rebellion, witchcraft, armed robbery, tea and biscuits. She is not above bribery and would not necessarily refuse an offer involving exotic travel or pink champagne. She works from a shed in her garden, plays bass in the band she first joined when she was 16, is writing a novella for Dr Who and lives with her husband and daughter in a little wood in Yorkshire.