Chocolat by Joanne Harris


General Fiction

ParanormalChocolat ChocolatJoanne Harris; Penguin (Non-Classics) 2000WorldCat

Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk arrive in the small French town Lansquenet-sous-Tannes on Mardi Gras Tuesday. They enjoy the festival. Vianne decides the town is tugging her so she rents a shop across from the church on the small main street. Although this is a small village, she opens a “frivolous” chocolate shop.

Vianne has been a wanderer all her life – with her mother, then later with her daughter. Lansquenet could be another of the short term stays, or it could turn into a more permanent home. The shop pulls a few customers as soon as she opens for business. But the pious local priest believes her shop is unnecessary and an evil during Lent. Also, she doesn’t attend church or confession.

The Father to find ways to undermine her. Some of the parishoners are swayed by his views. When the river gypsies pull up and stop along the river bank by their village, he has further issues. Vianne and others in the small town befriend them. The schism deepens.

Vianne is busy with her shop and her daughter. She becomes friends with some of the town “rebels” – an eighty year old woman, a woman beaten by her husband, an old man with a dying dog, and others. She has a second sense or a bit of esp about her, persumably inherited from her mother. She usually can tell from a person’s sense of self what that person’s favorite chocolate will be. Everyone is offered a free sample the first time they enter her shop, including the disapproving priest.

This is a quiet, haunting novel. It is written in first person narrative from Vianne’s and Father Reynaud’s points of view. She spends a lot of time reflecting on her past life as well as her current position. She remembers her life with her mother and her mother’s death. She considers her life with Anouk and how her daughter is growing up. She also describes the current events of Lansquenet. The priest keeps mainly to the current events and his feelings. But his narratives are to the former priest of the village, and there are hints to some dark secrets that have been hidden for years.

Haunting is a good word to describe this book. Events keep moving; conflict builds. Yet it remains quiet in tone. If you’ve seen the movie you’ll find the book somewhat different. The events are often the same, but the end and motives have changed in the movie from the book. It’s one to ponder after you put it down. This book will leave the reader with both a conculsion and more questions about the future.

If the reader has a strong religious faith, Father Reynaud’s character may grate. That or the lack of Vianne’s Christian faith could be obstructing. He is too legalistic, taking the acts of Christianity and a straightlaced belief in right and wrong of what the Church can tolerate. Vianne is not a Christian. She does have a belief in God, but she also has beliefs in mysticism.

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