By Joanne Harris
Published 1999, Penguin Books
Paperback, 306 pages
Greeted as "an amazement of riches . . . few readers will be able to resist" by The New York Times, Chocolat is an enchanting novel about temptation, pleasure, and the ultimate folly of self-denial. The town of Lansquenet, solemnly preparing for Lent, is set astir when Vianne Rocher and her spirited daughter arrive on the heels of the carnival and open a chocolate shop across the square from the church. Vianne's uncanny ability to perceive her customers' private discontents and alleviate them with just the right chocolate treats quickly charms the villagers--and enrages Pere Reynaud, the conservative local priest. Certain that only a witch could create such magical cures, Reynaud vows to block the chocolate festival Vianne plans for Easter Sunday and to run her out of town forever. Witch or not (she'll never tell), Vianne soon sparks a dramatic confrontation between those who prefer the cold comforts of the church and those who revel in their newly discovered taste for pleasure.I have lost count of the number of times I have watched the movie that is based off of this book, so I figured it was time for me to read the book. Like most movies based on books, the movie is only about half true to the book. In this case though, that did not really bother me.
Joanne Harris has a way of writing that has me savoring every word like one of Vianne Rocher's fine chunks of dark chocolate. What I would have given for a few recipes of the dishes she served in La Celeste Praline, especially the pots of chocolate that were served as frequently as coffee. The descriptions of the various confectioneries and even the non-chocolate dishes were detailed with a light touch, so that I never felt too overwhelmed -- but I still wanted to dive into the pages all the same.
All of the characters, large parts and small, were unique and original, even down to the quirky preferences and hidden burdens. I could easily relate to Armande's attraction to the color red and her unrefined mannerisms, as well as Guillaume's indulgence of his pet dog. So many of the characters could pass for people that I encounter every day -- from Roux's skepticism to Josephine's renewed independence to Caro's need to control. These characters will stay with me for a long time.
Probably the most interesting character, aside from Vianne Rocher, is the town's priest, Pere Reynaud. Like most of the rest of the town, he masks inner demons and makes up for them with his profession of choice. Though those inner torments are slowly revealed through the course of the book, I don't feel that his story was completely resolved, or that he even experienced any true character growth.
Vianne Rocher is certainly the most creative character in the book, both easily likeable and eternally mysterious. Haunted by memories of a nomadic lifestyle with her mother, she intermittently addresses her conflicting desires to both travel and put down roots even as her simple, self-taught cooking and hospitality brings about subtle and lasting change in the village of Lansquenet. A thread of fantasy runs through the plot as Vianne hints at the ability to read people's thoughts, choosing not to influence them, and consults her mother's tarot cards in her darker hours of contemplation. She even adds a touch of magic and mystery to her Chocolaterie to draw the wary villagers into the shop. Oh, what I would give to pay a visit to that amazing place myself.
The Cover: With an image of a French village and a border of the oft-mentioned brightly-colored flowers, this is a wonderful cover for the book.
First Line: "We came on the wind of a carnival."
This opening line is a perfect representation of what drives the main character, Vianne Rocher, both in her travels and in her self-made career choice.
Favorite Quote: “I could do with a bit more excess. From now on I'm going to be immoderate--and volatile--I shall enjoy loud music and lurid poetry. I shall be rampant.”
Read For: Foodie Challenge, Twenty-Eleven Challenge