All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Peaches For Monsieur le Curé – Joanne Harris

on September 19, 2012

Peaches For Monsieur le Curé
Joanne Harris
Random House AU
2012, 458p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

It has been eight year since Vianne left Lansquenet. For the last four years she has been living on a houseboat in Paris with Roux, father of her daughter Rosette and her other daughter Anouk. Then she receives a letter from an old friend, a letter from the grave. The letter asks of her to return to Lansquenet and help someone who is in desperate need of it, for the letter writer knows that they themselves will not be able to lower their pride and ask.

And so Vianne finds herself travelling back to Lansquenet with her two daughters, Roux opting to stay behind on the boat and not accompany them. Vianne is not prepared for what she finds when she arrives – firstly she finds herself standing next to the man who once would’ve stopped at nothing to oust her from the town, Monsieur le Curé himself, Father Reynaud. He is not giving Mass at the Church, instead there is a new priest. Vianne wants to know why but it is a long story and first she needs somewhere to stay, the empty house of her old friend Armande the obvious choice.

Once settled, Vianne begins to get to the bottom of what has been happening – the Muslim community and the small local Lansquenet community once co-existed peaceably and amicably with respect for each other’s religions and cultures. There was friendship, a blending of the cultures but now there is alienation and suspicion and a lot of it centres around the arrival of a mysterious woman, clad head to toe in black. She seems to have inspired a competition of purity in the other Muslim women and they all dress to hide themselves now and that combined with the arson of Vianne’s old chocolaterie, now a school run by the woman in black, has led the town almost to a revolt. And number one suspect for the arson? Father Reynaud.

Vianne and Father Reynaud may not have been friends before but he is a different man and Vianne knows that he didn’t set the building on fire and try to burn it to the ground with the woman and black and her young daughter inside. Could it be that Vianne has journeyed all the way back to this town in order to save the one person who only wanted to drive her from it?

Hot on the heels of finishing Chocolat, I dived into this, the third book, Peaches For Monsieur le Curé. I did skip the second book but I figured because I’d read Chocolat, I knew all the players and I think that it’s quite fine not to have read the second one, which takes place elsewhere. However I was very glad I had chosen to read Chocolat before this one because all of these Lansquenet characters have backstories and connections and previous relationships with Vianne so it was nice to have that prior knowledge.

I was very interested to see how Harris would play out this one given Reynaud is such an unsympathetic character in Chocolat. When Vianne returns to Lansquenet at the bequest of a dear old friend long departed, she can see immediately that the Father is quite a changed man. Whereas before he seemed to watch over the village with a all-seeing and knowing eye, she finds him almost on the outside of it, not involved in the religious celebrations taking place and nor is he getting ready to give the Mass. It seems that Father Reynaud has been relieved of his duties for the moment and it all centres around a growing discord between the Catholic church and the local Muslim community, made up mostly of families from North Africa.

Once again religion is quite a heavy theme in this book but this one seems to be more about promoting religious tolerance. Father Reynaud doesn’t begrudge the Muslims their mosque, only the spire they have built to amplify the call to prayer, which although passes regulations, also sort of mocks them. He and the leader of the Muslim community managed along together quite well until the arrival of the woman in black and things began to change. When the building was firebombed, fingers were pointed firmly at the Father and the Muslim community retreated within itself – it became a war.

I really enjoyed this book – it’s a real page turner, such a fleshing out of story and then a gentle tension builder until by the end I was literally bursting for something in particular to happen! Vianne really is a most interesting character, such a hard person to get a feel on sometimes, but so generous and interested in other people, even those who haven’t exactly been pleasant to her in the past. There’s enough whimsical magic in this story to make it a bit special but without alienating the skeptics and the evolution of Father Reynaud is skilfully done.

Food is a huge part of this novel too and the descriptions were utterly divine, both what Vianne was making and also the creations of the Muslim community. They were fasting for Ramadan throughout the book so all day was spent preparing for the meal to break their fast after sundown. Vianne visits a household quite often and they usually offer her something and once again, I wanted to try it all. It’s rich with imagery and beautiful description and to be quite honest I could quite easily see myself living in that little village! I think that Peaches For Monsieur le Curé is a stronger book with a stronger story. It’s a longer story but it’s definitely got more complexity to it and for me, that just meant more to enjoy.

8/10

Book #187 of 2012


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