All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Chocolat – Joanne Harris

on September 18, 2012

Joanne Harris
Black Swan
2000, 320p
Read from my local library

Vianne Rocher moves to the French village of Lansquenet and opens a chocolate shop directly opposite the church. The conservative village isn’t quite sure what to make of her, the temptations of her beautiful products at war with their strict local priest, Father Reynaud. Single mother Vianne and her young daughter Anouk are so different from all of the other residents and at first they face alienation and even hostility, amid suspicions of just what sort of person Vianne might be. But with her slow persistence and her beautiful chocolates, Vianne begins to find a place in the village.

She begins to acquire a few regulars: Guillaume, always accompanied by his small dog Charly, the elderly eccentric Armande, a diabetic who chooses to continue to indulge in her love of beautiful chocolate and espresso, Armande’s grandson Luc, previously estranged from Armande until Vianne’s shop gives them a peaceful place to meet away from the prying eyes of Armande’s daughter and Luc’s mother, the bossy Caro. Vianne also befriends Josephine Muscat, a reclusive type woman, thoroughly abused by her overbearing and bullying husband.

Then the gypsies arrive and Vianne is drawn to their lively lifestyle, getting to know the enigmatic leader Roux, earning even more ire from Father Reynaud who detests the gypsies camping near his flock. As Vianne puts into place her plans for an Easter Chocolate Festival for the village to celebrate Easter, it seems that someone will stop at nothing to see her shop and her destroyed.

Chocolat is one of those books that’s always been on my very periphery as something to read one day, particularly because I’ve heard that the movie, starring Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche, is absolutely fabulous. When I was offered a chance to read and review the third book in the series, Peaches For Monsieur le Curé, I thought that was a great opportunity to motivate me to finally read this and see what I thought of it.

Vianne is a very interesting character, her and her mother lived a nomadic existence, traveling from one place to the next, seemingly always outrunning the ‘Black Man’. After the death of her mother from cancer, Vianne and her daughter Anouk come to Lansquenet in France, a small village where the population is religious, church-going and conservative, minding their own business, keeping to themselves and turning a blind eye to the injustices that take place. Vianne isn’t particularly conservative and she’s not a practicing Catholic and makes it quite clear to Father Reynaud that she will not be attending the church right across the street from her chocolate shop. That sets Reynaud against her almost immediately – that and the disapproval he holds for the way in which Vianne raises her daughter Anouk and also, the company she begins to keep with the town. I found that Vianne was quite easy to like, perhaps because I’m not religious myself and I found it easy to identify with her stance on church and the fervent religiousness of Reynaud. There’s a lot of wondering in this book about what makes a ‘good Christian’ – an interesting concept. Reynaud is a Catholic priest, he should be the benchmark for all that is good but it’s clear from the very beginning that he’s a very bitter person, caught up in incidents that happened long ago in his past. He regularly goes to see his old priest in a type of confession and it’s through these meetings that the scandalous history of Father Reynaud and his predecessor are exposed.

I never really noticed food descriptions in books before, they were always just something I read but that perhaps didn’t really sink in. I’m finding that I’m really starting to pay attention to this now and appreciate it and I think perhaps that Marg is the reason for that! I did really love the beautiful descriptions of chocolate and sweets in this book as well as some of the food that Vianne prepares for her daughter or friends and it’s quite lovely. I have a very sweet tooth and Vianne’s shop sounded like utter heaven to me, somewhere I’d love to hang out and sample all of the beautiful things that Vianne made.

I did very much enjoy the writing in this book, I think Joanne Harris has a beautiful way with words. The religious overtones were a little too heavy for my personal taste as that isn’t particularly a favourite topic of mine but I did like the ultimate themes of devout not necessarily corresponding to ‘good’. Given the way in which this novel finished I’m looking forward to starting Peaches For Monsieur le  Curé and seeing just how Father Reynaud and Vianne come to be in contact again and what happens between them.


Book #186 of 2012


5 responses to “Chocolat – Joanne Harris

  1. Tien says:

    I chose this book for my f2f bookclub a couple of years’ back. Unfortunately, whilst I quite liked it myself, no one else did! I think it’s the magical realism which did not appeal to them ;p

  2. Marg says:

    Is there a book between Chocolate and Monsieur Le Cure?

    On the food thing, I can’t help but see great quotes about food now! It’s the same with Christmas because of the quotes I did for the Virtual advent tour last year and will do again this year.

    • dragonzflame says:

      Yes there is – it’s called The Lollipop Shoes (The Girl With No Shadow in the US). Vianne’s living in Paris, trying to have a ‘normal’ life and has given up on the things that make her who she is – no magic, she’s running a chocolate shop for tourists but buying them in just like everyone else, dating a man who’s not quite right to give her daughters security. But, of course, that has to change. It’s pretty good, very different to both Chocolat and Peaches and isn’t to everyone’s taste (so to speak), but I like it.

  3. Belle says:

    I love the movie, so I’ve been meaning to read the book for awhile. Just reading this review makes me crave chocolate.

  4. naimahaviland says:

    I haven’t read Chocolat but love the movie and the soundtrack is wonderful. Your mention of noticing foods in books brought to mind a book I’m reading now, Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire by Margot Berwin. In it, a city girl finds herself in the rain forest helping a plant shaman find the nine plants, which if owned together fulfill every desire human beings have. Of course one of these plants is cacao, from which chocolate is derived! That chapter gives instructions on making chocolate from the raw plant (labor intensive; think I’ll just go buy a great candy bar)!

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