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Chocolat is a story about - well - chocolate. A young woman on the run, Vianne Rocher, and her six year old daughter, Anouk, stop in the small village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes during Lent and open a chocolaterie. The more religious element of the village (led by the emotionally twisted curé, Reynaud and a gang of uptight yummy mummies) see this as an affront; an attack on their beliefs and their righteous desires. One by one, the villagers warm to Vianne and are won over by her rich, indulgent wares at a time when Reynaud is preaching abstinence, fasting and self-denial.
Chocolate itself really is something of a main character in the novel. Harris describes Vianne's chocolate creations very thoroughly and sensuously, and you can almost taste them as you read sometimes. It lends the novel a very sensual air because chocolate is about indulgence, losing self control and treating oneself. If there's a novel that would weaken your diet resolve, this is the one!
The small village setting gives the novel a nostalgic feel; it's really not clear when the book is set. The intensely pious, church-based community feels like a Fifties throwback, but Vianne is a well travelled, worldly-wise modern woman (except when it comes to contraception, apparently; she doesn't show any sign of bothering with that!). The community feels at times dense and claustrophobic: everyone knows everyone else's business, and beneath the friendly smiles and neighbourly chats, old histories and resentments simmer, unforgotten. The message is not anti-religion, although the church curate is clearly drawn as a villain - it's not that simple. The question being asked seems to be: who is more Christian? The man who goes to church every week and turns his back on a stranger, or the man whose face isn't seen at Mass, but who loves his neighbour?
Incidentally, since I last read Chocolat, I started following the author, Joanne Harris, on Twitter and this time I found it took a good few pages to get her Twitter voice out of my head. The novel is read variously from Vianne or Reynaud's points of view, and for the first couple of chapters all I could imagine was her little avatar bouncing up and down and reading the words aloud! Very offputting. But it did make me think about whether we need a little mystery from our authors, and whether getting to see an author in a slightly more personal context can affect our experience of a novel. However, Joanne is an excellent user of social media, and I derive so much interest from following her tweets that I decided to stick with it!
Besides Vianne, Anouk and Reynaud, there is the travelling community that drift into Lansquenet on their barges. These characters are as you would expect - dreadlocked, colourful and sociable. The village for the most part resents their presence, and won't even allow them into shops or cafés for fear they are out to steal something. They are obviously treated like that everywhere, and the way they react when Vianne shows kindness towards them shows that they're not used to it. Really these characters could have been bit parts to cause some trouble and serve a narrative purpose, but instead they are a lot more complex and filled out than that.
There is a supernatural element to the novel; Vianne's mother practised certain card readings and glamours that she passed down to her daughter. You do have to suspend belief to a certain extent for these parts but the way the novel is written makes this really really easy.
This is a deceptive novel. It's easy to read and I really flew through it (although it was my second or third reading, at least). But it's not simple. The language is rich, and paints vivid, warm images that stay with you for a long time. The characters are rounded and full, and you're left wanting to know more about them. I felt an instant urge on finishing to move on to the equally brilliant sequel, The Lollipop Shoes.
Available online from £3, but I do see it regularly in charity shops, so keep your eyes peeled!
I was given this book from a friend, and I wasn't too sure if it was going to be my sort of thing. After reading "The Evil Seed" I did kind of wonder if a book by the same author is going to grip me as much as the other book did, but I don't even know why I questioned it... I loved this book more than you could imagine, and it's definitely up there amongst my favourite books of all time.
Joanne Harris is a British author who has written many books (most of them I have got and I'm just eager to read them). So far I have read "The Evil Seed", "Chocolat" and its sequel "The Lollipop Shoes". She was born to a French mother and an English father in her grandparents' sweet shop. Her great-grandmother had an odd reputation and enjoyed letting gullible people think she was a witch and a healer. These experiences fuelled Joanne Harris' novels and especially in this book, there are a lot of links from her life and this novel. I didn't think she would have been able to capture me, once again, in a delightful book. Her writing style is so engaging and very different to any I have come across, I know that if I pick a book up that was written by her I'd fully enjoy it, even if the story was totally boring and nothing great happened, her writing will grip me enough to enjoy it. She is currently writing a third book in this "Vianne Rocher" series, and I'm really looking forward to that.
This book is set in a quaint French village called Lansquenet. Vianne Rocher decides to open a chocolate boutique directly opposite the church. The people who live in the village are intrigued by her. However Father Reynaud believes she is a danger to his flock and decides to declare war on her and denounces Vianne's wares as the ultimate sin.
Vianne's shop-cum-cafe means that there is somewhere for secrets to be whispered, grievances to be aired, dreams to be tested. Vianne decides that the village needs an Easter Chocolate Festival, but this divides the community into a conflict that escalates into a 'Church not Chocolate' battle. Can Vianne make everyone believe that chocolate is a pleasurable thing? You'll have to read to find out.
The one thing that annoyed me when I was reading this book was that I had no chocolate in the house whatsoever. So when I was reading about the making of chocolate, it made me want to eat chocolate right then, I wanted to taste it as I was reading about it. I definitely suggest you get some sort of chocolate to eat while reading this otherwise, your mouth will water for the rest of eternity.
I really enjoyed this book, it's so detailed and very well written that the book absorbs you in the first few lines, and to try and get out so that you could eat a meal or something is really difficult. This is definitely one book that you don't want to finish, but you don't want to stop reading either. I like how Joanne Harris paints this perfect picture of a little village, in your head, and then creates these little cracks that may be something big if no one's there to prevent it. The ending is powerful, it's the only word I am able to describe it, and I definitely would re-read this book, if I wasn't stocked up with books that will last me a life-time. But I can definitely see myself reading this again in the future, and then again after that, and then again after that. It will be one that I'll probably keep for the rest of my life, and one that I'll just re-read over and over again.
Now the film... I have not watched it yet, this is because A) my mom hasn't read this book yet, and I always believe in reading a book before watching a film. Also we have this little house rule where everyone in the house must watch the film together, even if there are guests in the house. And B) I don't currently have it yet, but I know that I'm going to be really eager to watch it. The film stars Johnny Depp amongst many other well known actors and actresses, and the film has also won a few awards. There is no news that "The Lollipop Shoes" will be adapted into a sequel, but I really hope that it does.
This is definitely a book you should go and buy RIGHT NOW! Even if you think the story line isn't for you, I know that you really won't be disappointed. I also suggest you buy enough chocolate that will last you for about a week, because trust me you'll need some.
I am quite a fussy reader (I need lots of description as well as a good story and characters), but I chose to pick up Chocolat from its cover (even though you never should) and its first few sentences of description.
The book is a small, average thickness paperback with a beautiful deep purple-blue colour, and a smattering of pretty objects appropriate to the story on the front, as well as a nest of chocolate eggs which sets up the story. It is as beautiful to look at as it is to read.
There is a small winding plot to this book. It is based around a woman called Vianne who moves to a small, traditional French town with her daughter to set up a chocolate shop. There is much scandal surrounding this foreigner's arrival in the town, her renegade ways and indulgent chocolate shop, as the town is very Christian and just setting up for Lent. When she associates with the "river rats", a group of people travelling in houseboats, the final straw is pulled.
There is quite a lot of character play and relationship storylines involved within the plot.
Vianne - a beautiful, passionate, colourful and wise woman, who is also deeply insecure due to her childhood and thus travels to escape her past. She is strong, and individual, but also somewhat out of control, like a red ribbon blowing in the wind.
Anouk - Vianne's six-year-old daughter. An pretty, imaginative girl with an imaginary kangaroo called Pantouf.
Comte de Reynaud - The priest of the town, he is strict, miserly and solemn. He restricts himself and ends up giving in to his desires.
Josephine Muscat - A woman weakened by her oppressive violent husband and resorting to petty theft. She befriends Vianne and with her help regains her strength.
Armande Voizin - an old and bitter but comical woman. She indulges her desires but has fallen out with her family and cannot remove her grudges.
Roux - the main "river rat". A quirky, mysterious man with a practical hand, and the only person who se favourite chocolate Vianne cannot seem to guess.
There are several other characters of the townspeople. All are well painted and developed in the book, and have realistic depth in their likeable and dislikeable qualities.
*Imagery and writing*
The writing style of this book is descriptive, lyrical, but without being over extensive and dull (like in some older novels, such as Charles Dickens). Joanne Harris describes the smells, sounds, visions and tastes of the town, from the chocolate shop, the riverside, and the fair that passes through town. The imagery is good enough to eat. I always recall the page where she describes the powdery sweet waffles and frying pancakes at the fair.
Joanne Harris is a clever author. Small touches like the lack of surnames for the two lead characters, which emphasizes their unified lack of home and certainty, show this.
Worth snapping up second hand (there are plenty of copies around, as some were given away free with a magazine a few years ago, too) and with the original cover rather than that of the film, if you love chocolate, romance and poetic writing. I am not sure if I would advise the film or the book first - both are equally good - and the description is certainly visual enough to sustain reading the book alone. This is one of my all time favourite books.
I've wanted to read "Chocolat" for a while and recently snapped it up in a second hand shop. I've never seen the film so can't comment on how they compare. However I made the mistake of reading "Blackberry Wine" by the same author just before reading this and I found it a far superior novel which marred my enjoyment of this one slightly.
Vianne Rocher, her six year old daughter Anouk and Anouk's imaginary rabbit Pantoufle arrive in the tiny French village of Lansquenet on carnival day and Vianne makes the decision to stay there. She opens a chocolate shop in the old baker's shop, a move which divides the religious village. The story is set over the 40 days of Lent and many of the villagers believe a chocolate shop is inappropriate for this time of year. Vianne finds herself caught up in the divide; on the one side she makes enemies yet on the other side she finds herself with some good friends. Vianne's arrival seems to wake the sleepy town up and there is an element of magic in this tale, as was the case in "Blackberry Wine." Vianne's mother believed herself to be a witch and her influence on Vianne is clear. I absolutely love how Joanne Harris writes about magic as if it is an everyday occurrence. She makes it fit in perfectly with the story and it doesn't seem unrealistic or odd in any way.
Vianne's nemesis is Pere Reynaud, the village priest who views her as a threat to his sermons and who constantly feels he is being undermined by her. The story is written in first person and is largely from Vianne's point of view however there are several chapters from Reynauds point of view. This is useful because it gives us an insight to his mind and his motivations for what he does. It also prevents him being typecast as the stereotypical, evil "Black Man."
The plot covers Vianne's interactions with the villagers and the build-up to the easter chocolate festival she has planned. The book is enjoyable to read and although the plot isn't overly exciting I was always compelled to read on. The disappointment for me was the climax of the dispute with Reynaud. It was an anti-climax compared to what I expected and I didn't really "get" it.
There was also something flawed about the setting. The village seemed lovely but I agree with many others who say the story would have better suited being set earlier in the 20th century. Reading about the quaint village one minute, then microwave ovens the next, is a bit jarring. I believe they changed the setting for the film which I think was a good move.
Chocolate of course plays an important part of the plot so make sure you have a stash close to hand as it'll make you want to eat some! I couldn't help but wonder if the inhabitants of Lansquenet would end up morbidly obese as they seemed to be eating a hell of a lot of Vianne's wares!
Vianne is a haunted and somewhat unsettled character. She is still grieving years after her mother's death and has never been able to settle anywhere. She lived a nomadic lifestyle with her mother and has never belonged anywhere. She is a fun, sincere and desperately kind individual. She would love to get along with everyone in the village if they would let her. She is seen as somewhat rebellious as she does not attend church like everyone else and although she is not blatantly pagan she indulges in a number of minor pagan rituals.
Armande is a fun character aswell. She is an elderly lady that befriends Vianne. She has the same attitude to life and is almost an older version of Vianne. Anouk is endearing in her escapades with Pantoufle and most of the minor characters are realistic and well-rounded. The only exception is possibly Roux, who I think could have been developed a bit more but as so much happens in this novel its hard to see how this could have been done.
As a rule I find Joanne Harris has excellent character creation skills and for this reason alone I will read more of her novels.
Despite how it may seem, the theme isn't that Christianity is bad. To me it's more about ditching convention and routine and seeing where life takes you. Try new things, follow your dreams and keep an open mind. Reynaud is a metaphor for convention which is clear when Vianne compares him to the imaginary "black man" her mother always feared.
The change in Josephine through the course of the novel also ties in with the theme of following your dreams. She breaks away from the suppressed life she had and emerges as a new person.
A lot happens in this book but it is more character driven than plot driven. It's an enjoyable and easy read but I found the climax just a bit too flat. For that reason I preferred "Blackberry Wine" but I enjoyed this book too and would recommend it.
When Vianne Rocher, her daughter Anouk (with Pantoufle - an imaginary rabbit) breeze into the small, religious, French town of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes with the intention of opening a chocolate shop during the holy time of Lent, you just know that there's going to be some problems. Since Vianne is a single mother, you can imagine that the least of her problems might be her tempting confections on the town's citizens, who are trying to deny their weak bodies. You see, Vianne believes in magic - not just the magic of delicious foods, but also in the magic of life itself, and that isn't going to go down well with the pious mayor of the town, Reynaud, whose championing of Christianity is the village's moral cornerstone. This is the story of Joanne Harris' most famous book, Chocolat, which led to a major motion picture.
Any book that's made into a movie must have something about it to make it special. And any book that makes its author famous has should be exceptional. Since I loved the movie, when I saw this in the library, I knew I had to read it. Of course, there is always a danger when reading a book before you see the movie that the movie will be a disappointment. And sometimes the opposite is also true. In this case, I have to say that for me, the latter was what happened in my case.
Let me state from the outset that there is nothing horribly wrong with this book. Harris' writing style is ultimately approachable and the text flows at a very comfortable pace. She neither uses overly flowery prose, nor does she go for anything too simplistic. Her use of what is now being called "magic reality" was considered innovative when this book came out, as was her introduction of extensive culinary injections into the text, which are both fascinating to read, and help the reader to escape from their hum-drum existence and become absorbed in unusual situations, despite Harris' asking us to suspend disbelief for some of the more fantastical things that happen here.
The overall feel of her writing reminds me of a wandering brook that trickles along. This can have its disadvantages, as we sometimes wish that the action in the book would pick up a bit in order to inject a touch of variety. This also means that her climaxes in this story don't have as much of a punch as they could have. Having read other of her later novels, I found that she has been able to learn how to build up for a climax better than she did here. Moreover, this book seems to include more than one conflict which means that she needs each of them to come to come to a head separately. This type of writing makes the story both a touch confusing as well as lessens the major focus of the story.
To be more specific, we have the problems of Vianne's opening her shop in this conservative town and the reaction of the priest Reynaud, we have an over-protective mother trying to keep her son away from his grandmother, we have the bar-keeper Muscat and his abuse of his mousey wife Josephine, as well as Vianne's own personal problems which stem from her relationship with her dead mother. Added to this are the gypsies that dock at the town's river and their interaction with both Vianne and the townspeople, as well as a couple other things, and you've got yourself a touch too much going on here. Of course, some people would find this makes the story all the more interesting, but I found that it just made the novel bloated, and had Harris focused on just one or two of these conflicts, and left the others to be more minor sub-plots instead of giving them almost equal weight, the end result would have been more concise and cohesive for me.
The other problem I had with this novel, which wasn't present in the movie, was the time the story is set. Harris made this into a basically contemporary setting of very late in the 20th century, but the movie moves it back to the 1950s. I felt that the earlier setting of the movie worked better for this story than the later one in the book. This is mostly because I find it harder to believe that even a very small town in France would still be that fervently religious in the 1990s, but can accept this better if we look further into the past. Of course, I could be wrong and perhaps there are still today many tiny towns in France that would follow their priest with such loyalty as to react almost totally en mass in accordance to his preaching, but I'm afraid it just doesn't work for me.
On the other hand, Harris is able to develop her characters very fully. Mind you, since I saw the movie first, I did have the faces of the actors that portrayed these characters in my head while I read this. Still, I don't feel that this was a drawback, and cannot tell you that Hollywood made any mistakes in casting this movie, since each and every one of them fit into what I was reading very nicely. What doesn't come out in the movie as well as it does in the book is Vianne's mother and her history, which actually gave me better insight into Vianne and her motivations than the film had time to allow. It is for this reason that I'm glad I read this book, despite the other drawbacks.
Remember, too, that this book is actually the first of a trilogy (followed by "Blackberry Wine" and then "Five Quarters of an Orange"). I personally enjoyed Five Quarters the most, and almost disliked Blackberry Wine, so this book takes second place in the trilogy for me. Still, I can honestly say that each of these books are written to also be stand-alone stories, and I don't think you'll be feeling you've missed something if you don't read one of them or read them out of order.
Overall, I can say that Chocolat is really a very nice novel, but not Harris' best. Harris has definitely grown as a writer since she wrote this book, so if you want an introduction to Joanne Harris, this might not be a bad place to start. However, if you saw and loved the movie they made of this book, you could end up being disappointed if this is the first novel of hers you read.
Still, it is well written, has excellent character development, a lovely style and includes innovative mechanisms that edge away from normal realistic fiction and tickles the fantasy genre. The drawbacks are that I'm still not sure I appreciate the time this story is set in, I think she has too many sub-plots that get too much attention, and I feel the plot has too many conflicts which mean too many climaxes to the story. That makes me think that while I can still recommend this book, I can only give it three stars.
Thanks for reading!
Davida Chazan © January 2007
Available from Amazon in paperback 320 pages Black Swan; New Ed edition (2 Mar 2000) ; ISBN: 0552998486, for new for £5.99, or from their marketplace from 1p.
To read more about Joanne Harris and her books, try visiting her web page at http://www.joanneharris.com
What can I possibly have to say about this book that hasn't been said already...not much I would think seeing as this has been reviewed before me a total of 19 times....still, I guess theres always room for one more person to add his or her opinion to the pot so without any further adieu lets get on with it shall we...?
It would be fair to say that this is not the usual sort of book I read though actually this is not strictly accurate as it seems of late I have begun to read more and more books not normally in my remit. This is partly because of the Book-swapping site to which I belong (READITSWAPIT) and the forums there which actively encourage you to try something different. And CHOCOLAT is certainly different to the crime/ mystery/horror/sci-fi/ historical/ thrillers that usually make up the majority of my reading diet. And, true-to-form, I took it as a swap because I had heard of but not seen the film and was suitably intriqued...
Lansquenet-sous-Tannes is the smallest of french villages that you could possibly ever find but it is to here that Vianne Rocher, her daughter and invisible friend, Pantoufle come in a bid for a fresh start and a new life- at least until the wind changes again. Opening up a Chocolatiere/ cafe in the dis-used bakery above which she lives, Viane soon ingratiates hereslf into the community and begins distributing her own unique brand of magic amongst the villagers in the shape of her delightful chocolate wares- the like of which some of them have never experienced before....
Soon Viane and her talents begin to discover the loves, the lives, the secrets and desires of all the local characters and only the local priest refuses to be swayed seeing her only as an instrument of maliciousness during the season of Lent and actively going up against her in his bid to keep his parishoners away.
It is fair to say that there are very few books like Chocolat which can leave you with such a warm feeling- a dear friend of mine when I mentioned I was reading this first looked at me as though to say "really?- You're reading this?" then commented that it was one of the warmest, most enjoyable books she'd ever read and that she must get it down off the bookshelf to read it once again because she so loved the emotions it provoked in her. I would like to say I laughed at her foolishness but indeed it provoked a nice, warm gushy feeling in me too and thats not something I readily admit to!!
With it's carnival air, it could almost be compared to Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes" but without the sinister edge. Though there are times when the good verses evil, God verses Lucifer theme is subtly hinted at, you are never entirely sure which of the two roles either of the main protagonists are supposed to be playing; much like real life there is no black and white and here indeed the boundaries between Vianne and the priest, Francis Reynaud are certainly blurred until all we are left with is varying shades of grey.
You who have read my other reviews will know that cover-blurb is one of my pet-hates and indeed even with Chocolat it rears it's ugly head. One of the comments written as a recommendation asks "Is this the best book ever written?" - a bold statement if ever I heard one and one which I would not nessescarily agree but this is certainly a throughly entertaining novel that cannot help but delight it's readers. I never would've comtemplated it before but I may well have to pick up another of Joanne Harris' books in the hope that it may be as good. This is defenitely one swap I intend to be keeping....
available from all good book retaillers though for a much cheaper option-try registering with READITSWAPIT yourself if you have books to get rid of or look for this on EBAY. If you have not read this, trust me you are missing out on a treat!!
I completely forgot to take a book to my mums with me the past weekend. I do so like to read before I sleep when I haven?t got the internet or a husband handy to tire me out instead! I didn?t have to worry as mum had a box of books sitting in the back bedroom ready for me. Well actually ready to go to the charity shop but to cut to the chase this is how I came across this book Chocolat by Joanne Harris. The copy I found had a large picture of a dark haired beauty of a woman offering a chocolate to the lips of a Johnny Depp looking fellow. The lady has a wicked smile on her lips and the guy looks completely under her (or the chocolates) spell. Now I have read the book I don?t think it particularly illustrates a scene but that it gives the impression of the feeling of this book. Chocolaty and indulgent! My mum told me ?that?s a good book Vick but have some chocolate to hand whilst you?re reading it. You WILL crave chocolate all the way through.? And as mums often are she was right. So first off a warning to all you folks counting calories and watching weight don?t read this book unless you have a strong will or you really fancy being tempted into the sinfully indulgent world of chocolat. To be honest by the time you reach the end of the book you?ll feel so rebellious you won?t care about the extra chocolate calories you?ve consumed as you?ve read! Vianne Rocher and her six year old daughter Anouk arrive in a small French village on carnival day. On impulse they decide to stay. Vianne buys the old bakery and begins to set up shop. Right from the get go you get a feel for the village and its inhabitants. Vianne does not know their names but she can tell a lot about there characters from their appearances and facial expressions. From the Moment Vianne sees Father Reynaud you know there is going to be some tension between the two of them. ?A black figure brings up the rear. At first I take him for part of the parad
e-the plague doctor, maybe-but as he approaches I recognise the old-fashioned Soutane of the country priest?.He turns towards me, and I see he too is a stranger? Perhaps this is what gives him the right to stare at me, this alieness; but I see no welcome in his cold, light eyes.? The book is told from both perspectives; that off the vivacious Vianne and the conservative and acid viewpoint of the Priest Reynaud. I can tell you now you are not going to like Reynaud. He is a cold and bitter man who hates change. He hates the colourful gypsies who come to his beautiful conservative village; he cannot stand Vianne and the indulgent chocolate shop she sets up in the abandoned bakery. In fact I don?t think he really likes himself much. Please don?t be too hard on him though. We all have our own prejudices and ones placed upon us from our parents and peers. Consider this before you throw your contempt on the holier than thou Reynaud. Vianne is full of life; she is a single mother and refuses to go to church. She believes a mish-mash of things including elements of Christianity and old pagan rituals. She is sweet, kind and sincere and has a kind word for everyone. She is not quick to judge but she has a skill for reading people from the moment she meets them. She has travelled all her life with her mother and then when her mother died on her own and then with her little girl Anouk. They are different and exotic. Anouk has an imaginary friend, a rabbit named Pantoufle whom Vianne can see on more than one occasion. Everyone in the village stops by the chocolate shop to see what the new strangers are like much to Reynaud?s displeasure as it is the Christian season of Lent and Reynaud follows the traditions closely. Fasting and denying himself any form of indulgence. The sight and smell of Viannes shop just metres across the square from him drives him mad with rage and bitterness. Vianne seems unaware of this and carries on meeting the needs of the
people who call into her shop not only by supplying them with chocolate but by giving them warmth, kindness and practical hep too. I don?t want to give too much of the storyline away here because, to be blatantly honest there isn?t really one. There are loads of interweaving threads and lives and many different stories all held within the pages of this one book. You get to meet so many interesting people and take a peek into their lives. This book isn?t about plot, story or action it is about people and their interaction. Even if you are not a character driven reader I urge you to read this book because you will be dragged into the lives of these people through the author?s fantastic use of Language. You get to meet Armande a truly rebellious lady of eighty years of age. She refuses to become old, to be told what to do or to let her daughter send her to the old folk?s home. She wears bright red satin underwear under her black widows clothes and does as she pleases. Often she indulges in chocolates at Vianne?s shop much to the mortification of her bible bashing Reynaud worshipping middle class daughter. Armande is Diabetic you see and should avoid sugary products like the plague! She is the kind of old lady I want to be when I get to the point of drawing my pension. She even wears a black hat with fake cherries upon it, just the type of hat I want to wear when I am a dotty old woman who cares not a jot for the views of the world. You meet Guilliaume and his little dog Charly. They go together everywhere and Charly is more than a dog to his elderly owner. Then there is Josephine Muscat a younger lady who goes through a massive change through the course of the book. She starts out as nervous and sulking and a bit of a thief and ends up as something completely different. I could go on introducing you to all the characters forever because I feel I know them all personally which is a great credit to Joanne Harris. Her writing style i
s easy on the eye and incredibly poetic. She describes everything in minute detail which will have your taste buds going wild when you read the descriptions of the mouth watering chocolates in Vianne?s shop. Many themes run through this amazingly complex book. Death, life, fear and prejudice are just a few which leap to mind. You will be challenged ever so gently and subtly as you read Chocolat. You will begin to see yourself in a way you might not have done before, or at least I did. I noted the prejudices I myself have and have had and by acknowledging them I do hope that I will be able to conquer them in my future life. However this is not a heavy read, it is light and refreshing and sensual. All your senses will be stimulated and you will not want to stop reading. It is amazing how she has addressed such heavy subjects in such a way that you want to continue reading and you don?t get maudlin from immersing yourself in this book. Curl yourself up in a chair or in bed with a big box of chocolates and this book and I swear it will be better stress relief than Prozac itself! You will feel calm, happy and sinfully wicked. Go on. Be a devil. Buy it, read it, eat it and live it. Chocolat. Currently you can pick up chocolat on Amazon for £5.59 which I think is a bargain. Alternatively look out for it appearing in the charity shop near my mums soon and pounce! Also you can pick it up in WHSmiths for around £6.99 for the paperback. I don?t think you?ll have any problems getting hold of a copy of this delightful read.
I have just this minute finished reading Chocolat. From the moment I started reading it, I was intrigued. Not by it's language or even it's plot, but by it's meaning; it's message. It's an understatement to say that Harris doesn't write easily. She, at times, can make reading the book difficult, because you get lost in where she is, and what she's trying to say. Saying this, though, it was a pleasure reading it, and something I'll forever remember. I haven't seen the film - of the same name - so I didn't know what the story was about, at all. I knew it was set in France - hence the name - but new nothing about its plot. I picked up Chocolat by accident, really. Rummaging the book shelves at my local library, the librarian came over to me, and said, "Matt, I've just finished reading a book that I know you'd love." And that's how I came across it. She often recommends numerous books to me, and we have similar taste, so I took it home to give it a go. To be honest, I really didn't see myself enjoying the book. Usually, I tend to go for lengthy interesting plots, and books with an actual message at the end. From what she told me about Chocolat it seemed it didn’t have any of these things. Yet I still put these to the back of my mind, and sat down to read it. From the first page, I knew I'd made the wrong judgment. Not only was it interesting from the start, but also the writing was very deep and emotional. It was touching, and somewhat intelligent, which I rarely find in books written after the 1960's! I knew from then, that I was actually going to enjoy it, after all... So, what is Chocolat all about? Well, Vianne Rocher, and her daughter Anouk, arrive in the French village of Lansquenet. From her first day there, she watches the residents very closely and is fascinated by them all. The following day she opens a new shop, a chocolate shop, in the old baker
y. The residents don't approve of Vianne's shop, especially as it's Easter, and the time to NOT give into temptation. Vianne makes a lot of enemies in the new town, but also a few friends. But, her greatest enemy of all is Pere (Father) Reynaud, the local priest, who has a sinister secret that he doesn't want the rest of the town knowing. He worries that Vianne is the woman who’ll open his can of worms after all these years… Chocolat's plot is an extremely hard one to define. Not only is it complicated, but also long, and you don't know where to stop. The synopsis at the back of the book gives an insight into way past page 250 (the book is only 320 pages long!) and for me, was a bit silly, and spoilt parts of the story for me. I can see that Chocolat can sound really boring form what I've said, but just put these thoughts to the back of your mind, and go ahead and read it. You won’t regret it. Vianne, to me, came across as a woman scared of commitment that she must have inherited from her dead Mother. Her Mother died only a couple of years before the story takes place, and I think during the novel she is still grieving. Many of times she refers to the "Black Man" someone her Mother was afraid of, he’s the reason they both went on the run when Vianne was a child. The two traveled the world, not staying in one place more than six months, and experiencing the world’s great places. Vianne, now the same with her daughter, has found Lansquenet quite pleasant, and to me, the novel was about fear of settling down, and the fear that that's her life, and an ending to everything she’s experienced. Because that's all Vianne is scared of -settling down, and admitting that this is her home. Vianne really changes the town for the better. The elderly woman she befriends, Armande's, words are very precise to me: "The wind's changed since you've been
here. I can still feel it. Everyone can feel it. You've changed the town for the better" Page 125. Armande's comment is spot on. From the minute she arrives, the town is totally different, the residents behave different. Even though we only see the town from the minute she arrives, there are references to the way people have changed, and it comes across that Vianne’s modern ways have rubbed off on the residents of the French town, and she’s changed not only their views, but their feelings, as well. The book is written in the first person, Vianne's story, but sometimes chapters have Pere Reynaud talking to his friend, in hospital, and giving his views on Vianne. I found these chapters rather disturbing, and to me, a bit unnecessary, but they did give more across about his feelings. It also added to the anticipation, but at times, it became confusing, and you didn't know whether it was Reynaud or Vianne talking, until way into the chapter, which sometimes could be off putting. The book is one of happiness, sadness and as I've already mentioned - fear. Chocolat is a book for people who don't only love Chocolate, but also love books” Chocolat is a book that book lovers have been waiting for years. One that, although has a story, also had hidden meanings, that are rarely mentioned in modern fiction. All in all, Harris has written a memorable and enjoyable book that isn't only interesting, but insightful into other cultures and lives. It's intriguing, enjoyable, and a brilliant read, that everyone should have experienced. And don't tell me you've seen the film, because from what I've been told, the endings are completely different (I will be seeing it in the near future, though!). Read it! Highly recommended. ISBN: 0552998486 © Matt Roberts 2003
Unmarried mother Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk arrive in a small French village called Lansquenet-sous-Tannes on Shrove Tuesday and in the middle of a carnival. Six year old Anouk is wiser than her years and has an invisible rabbit friend called Pantoufle. She asks her mother if they can stay there after living as travellers and always running away from 'the dark man' who I believe is symbolic of anybody who can't accept and feels threatened by the existence of those who don't conform to their narrow way of life. Vianne too quickly to be realistic, opens a chocolate boutique cum café (La Celeste Praline Chocolaterie Artisanale) opposite the Catholic Church, much to the chagrin of Father Reynaud who believes that she offers too much temptation to his flock and preaches against her and her ways. Father Reynaud expects the villagers to live by his own bigoted narrow standards and uses his position to harm others who don’t fit in. Vianne and the bad influence that he believes she will be to his flock is a natural target for him and the story covers the 40 days of lent and his fight against her. We are treated to some wonderful mouth-watering descriptions of chocolate making and the names and descriptions of the different confections sound so tempting that they made my favourites feel very ordinary. I drooled at the thought of the delicious sounding mugs of hot chocolate Vianne serves her customers and could imagine the villagers gossiping over their drinks. Vianne becomes a catalyst to change the lives of some of the villagers. Some interesting characters are woven into the story, all of which play their own separate parts in bringing the story to a conclusion. Armande Voisin the character who came alive to me the most, is a mischievous strong-willed 80 year old widow who aims to have fun in the last part of her life despite control attempts by her devout daughter Caroline Clairmont. Armande knows somethin
g from Father Reynauds past that he fears she will reveal, she enjoys winding him up and basks in his disapproval. I found myself smiling at the thought of the priests reaction if he discovered that she wore frivolous red underwear underneath her habitual mourning black clothes. Armande’s 13 year old grandson Luc Clairmont has been forbidden to talk to his grandmother by his mother Caroline. He stutters badly due to his mother being overbearing and not allowing him to behave like a normal teenager. I found myself wanting him to rebel and enjoy being his age. Paul–Marie Muscat is an ignorant brute of a man who beats his wife Josephine, but that’s ok because he’s a regular churchgoer. Josephine Muscat is a mouse of a woman who steals in reaction to the treatment dished out to her by her husband. Father Reynaud and the villagers look down on her and side with her husband when she tries to change things. Then we have Michael Roux, a river gypsy with a secret past. The villagers distrust him and the other gypsies and refuse to sell them food and drink despite them doing no wrong. The story is narrated in turn by Vianne and Father Reynaud with Vianne’s narration uppermost. Father Reynaud tells his tale to the previous village priest Pere who is ill in hospital and doesn’t speak. I felt that Father Reynaud's one-sided discussions with Pere slowed down the pace of the book which in those parts got boring, but they were probably intended to reveal more of Father Reynaud’s troubled personality. Joanne Harris created an air of mystery about Vianne and Anouk, with lots of hints about inherited psychic powers and their past. Not everything is revealed but I like a book that leaves something to my imagination. I enjoyed reading Chocolat to a certain extent but found it easy to put down after a chapter or two, usually when the priest was narrating. It wasn’t the most riveting book that
I’ve read but I did find it thought provoking. The author broached the issues of prejudice and bigotry quite well by showing how groups of people can close in upon themselves to unfairly repel anybody who is different to them. The character of Father Reynaud was a bit too over the top for me. I could dislike him but I found it hard to believe in the character because he was so unfeeling and just didn’t seem like a modern day priest. Maybe that’s just me, I’m not a Roman Catholic but I regularly bump into priests from the local school and church and find them warm hearted and fun on occasion, not bigoted and cold. Saying that there are some sad individuals out there who live narrow disapproving lives. Chocolat is a little different from other novels that I’ve read and didn’t disappoint me. I hate being able to guess the ending of a book so I was pleased to find the outcome unexpected in some ways. I liked Chocolat but I didn’t find it as sensuous or as brilliant as it was hyped up to be, but would recommend it for readers who like a book that they can digest a bit at a time and be left with something to think about inbetween reading sessions. You can buy Chocolat in paper back on Amazon for £5.59. Chocolat was also made into a film starring Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench and Johnny Depp.
For what could be so innocent as chocolate? Innocent indeed, and altogether enchanting. A novel equally worth the acclaim given to the film. Without spoiling the plot for those who have no idea about the storyline, let me give you a brief synopsis: Vianne Rocher arrives, courtesty of the north wind, in a small town in rural France with her daughter Anouk. Regular travellers, they settle in quickly, and Vianne takes the lease on the old bakery, and opens a Chocolaterie. However, as in most towns in France during the 50s, the Catholic faith is inpenetrable amongst the town's inhabitants, and, as it is lent, her business is frowned upon. However, she soon embeddes her flare and her selfless care into the town, and finds it very difficult to move on. The corruption of her biggest enemy, Reynaud (the priest who has been preaching against her and her chocolate) brings her satisfaction and justification, and allows her to stay. Harris's beautiful writing style is enhanced by the quality of the content. The embellishment of her language makes the reading a joy, and one feels compelled to read consistently until the book is finished. If you have not seen the film, I highly recommend you read the book first. As with all films, the content is altered somewhat, and I am sure you will enjoy the book much more by reading it first.
When Vianne arrives in Lansquenet with her young daughter and opens a chocolate boutique opposite the church, Father Reynard immediately identifies her as a threat to him and his flock and to the traditions, religion and way of life that he holds so dear. Vianne’s shop cum café is a provocative distraction to the town folk and one which Father Reynard sees as seducing his god fearing congregation. After all, how can the church compete with such mouth-watering chocolate delights as are described here and how can it turn a blind eye to their calling when they are right outside his front door? Chocolate is Vianne’s life, - it is what she knows, she is good at it, it is her livelihood. She sees it as nothing but harmless fun, a treat for her customers if they are feeling low but for Father Reynard, he sees it as the start of the destruction of his own way of life. Now there is a place for people to meet, to talk and to whisper secrets. What will they need his church for now they have this? So, what did I like about the book. I liked the description of small town France and the characterisation. Immediately I felt a kinship with the characters, like I was part of their community – I cared about what happened to them. The book is cleverly written in that chapters are alternately narrated by Vianne - the temptress, the devil incarnate maybe and Father Reynard, gods messenger. For every event that occurs the other opinion is then offered up for the reader to examine. Consequently, the reader is allowed to form their own opinion, rather than being spoon fed a conclusion that the author wants you to reach and the author never falls into the trap of telling you who she wants you to sympathise with. When the film version of this book was released earlier this year I was quietly outraged that the character of Father Reynard had been substituted for a town mayor. For me, the crux of this book centres on the re
lationship between Vianne and the priest. If one of these characters is good, then surely the other must be bad but which is which? Life comes in shades of grey and this is probably never so well expressed as here. There are two sides to every story. I have not seen the film (although I would like to watch it one day) but I fail to see how a town mayor can have the same hold and the same emotional impact over people as that of a priest. Is religion really so controversial that Hollywood had to make such a major change? The reviews that appear in my copy of the book, mainly concentrate on the beautiful descriptions of chocolate but for me, even though I am a self confessed chocoholic, the book was much more than that. It’s about how we react to change, how we react to our beliefs being challenged and its about belonging. Throw in a dash of magic and a suspicion of witchcraft - the good kind, there is nothing to be afraid of here and you are in for a treat. Chocolat is a lovely read without being syrupy or sweet but what I liked best was that it is thought provoking and challenges the readers perception of right and wrong. This is definitely one of my favourite books of the year and of all time.
Chocolat as the first book I read by Joanne Harris is full of the magic and mystery I have come to find, happily, characteristic of her novels. The story of Vianne Rocher, an unmarried single-mother, who sets up her chocolaterie shop in Lansquenet, a town seemingly unable to resist the charms and 'naughtiness' of chocolate. In light of the coming of Easter, the town Priest gets involved in Vianne's life, tryint to turn the town against her in a last bid of the church vs. chocolate. Vianne has howver, to overcome the dark history of her past to enable her as an outcast to come to terms with herself and do the best for her daughter, Anouk. I think Chocolat is a truly special almost magical book. I read it virtually from cover to cover on holiday and felt almost bereaved when I finished, as if I had to say goodbye to a very fond friend. It is not simply the old tale of good versus evil, becasue you are never quite sure what is the truth. When you have read Chocolat, read Blackberry Wine.... it's even better.
“Is this the best book ever written?” questions the Literary Review on the front cover of my paperback edition of this book, a fairly audacious claim and one to be fair no book should have to bear. So in no way to prejudice the reader, ‘Chocolat’ is not the best book ever written, it is a light and at times delicious read, with a notable darker subtext buried in amongst a celebration of hedonistic pleasure but it’s hardly Booker Prize material. So now we’ve cleared that one up, perhaps I should move on to the review. Set over the forty day period of Lent in the small French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, “No more then a blip on the fast road between Toulouse and Bordeaux,”, ‘Chocolat’ is at its heart a portrait of life in a remote village. Vianne Rocher, is a drifter, blown by the wind from place to place, running from her past and her future. Accompanied by her young daughter, Anouk and an imaginary rabbit Pantafoule, she arrives Lansequenet and opens a chocolate shop, directly opposite the Church. Reynaud is the village priest, still a young man yet cut from the classical Catholic mould, he is cold but firm, desperate to live up to his calling and the legacy left by his mentor, the former incumbent referred to only as pére. At first indifferent to the new comer, Reynaurd’s rage grows as Rocher seems to taunt him opening a boutique dedicated to decadence and hedonism during the festival of self denial, Lent. The tension grows as Rocher’s pagan practicality and tolerance contrasts with the iron will of the Church cumulating in a battle of wills over Vivanne’s plans to hold a Chocolate Festival over the Easter holiday. Woven in amongst this simplistic story are other, more tangible threads. The wilful Aramande Voizin’s struggle to enjoy her last months of life against her daughter and diabetes, the battered wife Josephine Muscat attempt to discove
r life and the arrival of river gypsies which stirs dark and heavily buried memories in the town and the priest. Joanne Harris’ writing is lively and sumptuous, the mouth-watering descriptions contained herein are enough to put any one off their diet, Harris clearly has a love of chocolate which she is only too happy to share. The metaphorical implications of the chocolate are clearly painted, Harris draws a direct comparison between the empty spirituality of the Host offered begrudgingly by Reynaurd and earthy delight of the flesh given freely by Vivanne. Sexual implications can also easily be drawn. Yet chocolate poses a threat, not just to the power of the priest but to the health of the diabetic Voizin, in celebrating life it also brings death closer, a reminder that the delights of flesh can only extend this far. The novel is narrated in turn by the two protagonists, a clever trick which gives us a more balanced view of the novels events. Reynaud’s monologues with the silent pére, give us an insight into his mentality, a sense of the reasons for his struggle and righteous indignation. Thankfully, Harris is not content to portray Reynaud as the pantomime villain she could easily have left him as. Instead he comes to life beautifully not so much as sympathetic character but as a three dimensional creation who’s motivations and actions are in sharper focus as a result. The subtle revealing of Reynaud’s shady past is also well executed, shedding further light on the moral hypocrisy and contrasts he embodies. Vianne meanwhile despite her narration of the majority of the book remains a shadowy character, as much an enigma to herself as to the reader one begins to suspect. The distinct hint of Mary Poppins about the character are interesting, the recurring use of being blown in on the wind and the way her arrival shakes the previous power structure of the setting. However, Vivanne is a far more complicated pr
oposition then Poppins, she is a witch like character who is pursued and not fully aware of the implications of her presence. As her battle with ‘the black man’ changes from a metaphorical game of hide and seek to an open confrontation, Vivanne still questions her own role. This is a more human Poppins, Voizin may recognise her for who she is, but Vivanne lacks this self knowledge and is fighting the role handed to her, she doesn’t wish to be blown by the wind as a seed of change, she wants to find peace. The other characters are a bit of a mixed bag. Whilst the shoplifting, fragile Josephine is sketched perfectly, as is the delightfully sharp Voizin, Harris does not extend this courtesy to all her characters. Of the ‘villains’ of the piece, only Reynaud emerges as convincing, the brutal Muscat and the empty headed Caro doing little more then fulfilling their role in the fable as the nemesis’ of Josephine and Voizin respectively. The gypsy Roux is also too roughly drawn for comfort, given the pivotal part Harris wishes him to play towards the novels end. There have been criticisms of both the setting and the ease in which Vivanne sets up her shop. These are to somewhat miss the point, there is an palpable air of magic to the novel, Vivanne is clearly no ordinary woman and Harris is to some extent writing in the form of a fable. The question mark over Panatfoule's existance should have been enough to alert this in the mind of most readers. As for the setting, the timing of the novel is unclear, but equally irrelevant, those who would suggest such villages as Lansequenet no longer exist have not ventured into rural France recently, and the power of the Church exhibited here can still be found in such remote communities. The village is stylised admittedly, but this is part of the point, the novel one feels is not intended to be a realistic drama but have the slight air of the fantastic to it. T
he slight swipes at the Church are also not to be taken completely literally. Harris is rallying against hypocrisy and enforced subservience, not necessarily Christian doctrine. Vianne presents one view and Reynaud the other but the reader is not forced to choose but rather blend the two to form the author’s picture. Only one plot twist involving the Church and the mysterious pére, seemed a little unnecessary and a slight over egging of the pudding as it were. I also found the ending a little unsatisfying, in particular the reaction of Reynaud and final twist as it were, although these do fit into the fairy tale structure which Harris has chosen to employ. In conclusion, ‘Chocolat’ is a lovely book, light enough to read quickly, dense enough to make further exploration a worthwhile experience. Although a few of the final twists do not quite convince the book is highly enjoyable and worth reading as much for Harris’ evocative writing as the symbolic undertow.
Well, you need wit, charm and a lorra', lorra' talent. Fortunately, all you need to enjoy it, is the ability to read. Trust me, you'll be glad you have that ability by the time this book is finished. Set in Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, a dot of a town, with a population of 200, a small close-knit rural Christian community led by the priest of the parish, Francais Reynaud. The town is shaken by the arrival of Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk. Blown in on the breeze from the carnival, the town are instantly wary and suspicious, none more so than the overly devout Reynaud. Matters are not helped when Vianne decides to open a chocolate shop on Ash Wednesday, the start of the Christian season of fasting and self-denial, Lent. This mixed with the fact that she does not attend church causes uproar. Yet, they do not know Vianne's biggest secret. She, just like her mother, has magical powers, powers that can sense the innermost feelings and thoughts of people. With her carefree personality, quick wit and deep understanding of people's problems she soon earns some friends. It seems her arrival has split the parish in half. The book soon turns into a verbal war between these two sides. The book slides into a roller-coaster finish, changing everyone from the village's lives forever. This book is told from two points of view, the chocolate woman Vianne and the intense, strict figure of Reynaud. This book has some of the most beautiful language ever put from pen to paper. The mixing of the plain English language with the gloriously eloquent French tongue form the basis for one of the best books I have read in a long, long time. Yet, don't worry if your French isn't up to scratch, because God knows mine isn't! All it contains is a simple word inserted every now and then. The selling point of this book however is the mouth-watering descriptions, the smells, the tastes and the look of the f
ood. I think I'll quote if I may from the very start of the book: "We came on the wind of the carnival. A warm wind for Febuary, laden with the hot, greasy scents of frying pancakes and sausages and powdery-sweet waffles cooked on the hotplate right there by the roadside, with the confetti sleeting down collars and cuffs and rolling in the gutters like an idiot antidote to winter" Even reading that I'm starting to get hungry. Yet, it's when she reaches the descriptions of the chocolate that you really see the crem de la crem of her writing (Ahhhh, did you see how I did that!). Describing the centerpiece of the chocolate shop window "A gingerbread house, walls of chocalate-coated pain d'epices with the detail piped on in silver and gold icing, roof tiles of florentines studded with crystallized fruits, strange vines of icing and chocolate growing up the walls, marzipan birds singing in chocolate trees..." If there is one disadvantage, it is that, while reading this book I have consumed more chocolate than I, or I'm sure any scientist, ever believed possible. This is not only costly, but extremely unhealthy. It's all gone to my hips as well (0; The characters are so life-like you feel you've met them before: the loveable, full-of-life Armande, the young, loud Anouk (with imaginary rabbit friend Pantouffle in tow) and the beautiful, carefree Vianne. By the end of the book, you will feel like you've known them all your life. Expertly crafted, it once again goes to show Harris' genuine talent. If you've know my reviews at all you will know this is by no stretch of the imagination my kind of book, but I'm now convinced this is everyone's kind of book. Witty, moving and unputdownable, you'll have cravings to re-read it for years to come. So, put your feet up, grab a couple of hundred bars of Dairy Milk and gorge yourself on Chocol
at and chocolate.
“Chocolat” is, quite honestly, the best book that I have read in recent years. Although I’m sure I don’t appreciate it as much as a more educated mind could, I can recognise that this is a fantastic novel which has to be read to be truly appreciated. The protagonist is Vianne Rocher, a travelling woman who blows like tumbleweed into the unremarkable little village of Lansquenet during a carnival one Shrove Tuesday. She opens up a chocolaterie opposite the imposing church, with the intention of staying in Lansquenet for a while, although the exact time is uncertain, for there always seems to be something calling Vianne to move on. Vianne finds herself at first a stranger in this sleepy French community where the church’s influence is paramount and the somewhat strict Father Francis Reynaud disapproves of “La Praline Celeste”, especially during Lent. But, Reynaud’s influence cannot stop an increasing number of people succumbing to the alluring scents and tantalising appearance of the chocolates inside the new boutique. Vianne gradually meets and knows many of the towns most memorable figures ; the sensitive and wise Guillaume and Armande, whose mischievous and maverick exterior belies a loving and thoughtful soul. Vianne also meets the owners of the local café, one of whom is the secretive Josephine Muscat. As well as the residents of Lansquenet, a group of water gypsies arrive on the banks of the river. Treated like outcasts by most, Vianne and Armande in particular befriend them. Unfortunately, their arrival and the subsequent events which involve them mirror events which happened many years ago. So long ago that only Father Reynaud, Armande and Monsieur Muscat can recall all the horrific details. Vianne’s stay in Lansquenet stirs up the past and shakes the village into a new life all at once, while reminding Miss Rocher of some of her own past. Throughout the novel th
ese truths are revealed until by the end you are left with a complete and intricate tapestry. “Chocolat” is an absolute joy to read; it is littered with subtle details and observations which satisfy the senses and make every chapter an exquisite discovery about Lansquenet, its inhabitants and their shadowy past. The flawless characterisation means that although the personalities are highly original and often eccentric, the reader never doubts that they could exist. Although these people encounter situations which are trying and passionate, the emotional pitch never becomes too sentimental. This delicate understanding of events makes the book very touching and poignant. A subtle, brilliant and exquisitely written book, “Chocolat” is compulsive and very enjoyable reading.