* Prices may differ from that shown
"Five Quarters of the Orange" is the third novel in Joanne Harris's "food trilogy", following "Chocolat" and "Blackberry Wine." Its interesting that the three books are referred to as a trilogy as this book has no connection to the other two except for the fact that food plays a prevalent role in the plot. Nevertheless this is an enjoyable book, albeit much darker than the first two, and in my opinion is by far the best of the three.
Framboise Dartigen tells us the story in first person; she is in her sixties and has recently moved back to her childhood home in the French village of Les Laveuses. Framboise has opened a small creperie where she sells food based on the recipes her mother left her in an album. However Framboise keeps her real identity secret from the villagers, instead referring to herself as Framboise Simon. They do not know she has any connection to the village and nor does she want them to as a dark secret hangs over Framboise's family, one which led to her mother being reviled and hated by the locals.
However Framboise's secret threatens to be exposed when her money-hungry nephew Yannick and his wife Loire demand the recipes from her album to use in his restaurant, otherwise they will expose her past to her new friends. This leads to Framboise reminiscing about the events of that fateful war-time summer.
In a sense this book contains two stories. One the one hand we have Framboise in the present dealing with Yannick's ploys to force her to give in to his demands, as well as Framboise's childhood narrative.
The key character in Framboise's childhood was her formidable mother Mirabelle, who was sour faced, ill tempered and plagued with migraines. She was only ever happy when creating masterpiece recipes in her kitchen. The album she left to Framboise contains many recipes but also lots of random entries written while she was suffering from a migraine, or heavily under the influence of the drugs she used to control them and was subsequently addicted to.
This novel starts slow, and indeed it took me a few days before I really got into it. But once you're hooked, you won't let go. Harris paints a wonderful picture of a rural childhood in wartime France and you feel as if you're actually there. She beautifully illustrates the notion of innocence lost, as Framboise, her brother Cassis and sister Reine-Claude become embroiled in situations that no child should ever find themselves in, leading to tragic consequences that will change their lives forever.
Framboise is not instantly likeable as a child, which I think is actually part of her appeal. Her honesty as she recalls her childhood self is refreshing. She was devious, spiteful and went out of the way to antagonise her mother. Framboise recognises this but at the same time is aware that she desperately missed her dead father and craved affection from her mother who could not show it. She admits now that she was more like her mother in temperament than she realised, and that her mother did love her. Indeed her mother even tried to show affection in small ways, however the feisty young Framboise spurned her efforts.
Although I wouldn't say Framboise is likeable, she is well written and she is easy to empathise with. As is her mother, who is clearly struggling to cope with bringing up three unruly children single handedly. I found Framboise more likeable as an adult; she has a great insight into life and is honest about the mistakes she has made in the past.
This book has many themes, one of the main themes being how the past works on us and how seemingly minor actions can throw our lives off in a completely different direction. It also shows how life can get tangled when childhood fantasies become embroiled with blatant adult situations.
Food plays an important part, as it is the way Framboise makes a living, plus it is her only remaining connection to her now deceased mother and is almost a means of communication between the two of them. As Framboise continues to reminisce and attempts to make sense of her mothers ramblings in her album she discovers a side to her mother she never knew existed, and that her mother harboured dark secrets of her own.
Framboise's mother took her secret to the grave. Perhaps it is this realisation that presses Framboise to reveal hers, and ultimately relieve her own burden.
The title is interesting and ties in wonderfully to a particular incident in the novel that I won't reveal here.
I loved this book. It has a slow start but once you get beyond that, its well worth a read and the truth, when it is finally revealed, will leave you stunned.
This book must have had a lot of thought going into it, it is very carefully constructed, and has more cliff hangers than Devon. It is about a woman who moves back to her childhood town, and where she thinks home is. She starts up a creperie, but her vicious and jealous chef of a nephew blackmails her in order to try and extort her famous and delicious recipes, threatening to expose her true identity. I won't spoil the story, which is one of the most enigmatic books I have read, following what seems to be the trend with Harris' books. It delves into her childhood at regular intervals, which gradually explains why she has to hide her true identity. The story in the past is probably the most effective- a certain scene will stay with me forever. The main character is a daughter in the past, and some of the actions she takes are evil, and you wonder what the metaphor is behind it all. The way that Harris incorporates her love of food into her stories is one I have not seen in anyone elses writing, and if you have not read Joanne Harris' work, it is an interesting exploration. The way she also describes her characters is also very interesting, and you wonder how she can make them so real.
The book is definately one to try, it isn't like any other story you've read.
I was given this book and am delighted with the discovery of the best book written by this author, more famed for her book Chocolat which was made into a major film, though which lacked clarity in book form. The writer progressed, she moved on, and although the story in this book is based in a small village in the Loire region of France, and gives continuity to her style of writing, this book does more than that, and to my mind is the best of the bunch. Known as part of a trilogy of gourmand books, being Chocolat, Blackberry Wine, and this book, I would say that whilst the books are all of a nature to conjure up temptation and to get the reader's taste buds going, they are not a true trilogy, in that each has its' own story to tell and stand alone, this book being, as stated, the best there is amongst them, from my point of view.
The story is narrated by Framboise (the French word for Raspberry !), and what is particularly special about this book is the way in which the writer interlaces past and present, to achieve a whole story, and does so remarkably well. The story begins with explaining the inheritance that Framboise gains upon the death of her mother. Cassis, her brother, inherits the farm. Reine-Claude (her sister), inherits the fortune of the wine cellar, and Framboise probably gets the best inheritance, in that her legacy to her mothers' life comes in the form of an album of recipes and a black Perigord truffle. It's actually not that true to life, since under the French legal system, children can't be done out of part of the family home, although given that this is fiction, poetic license is allowed, because it's a wonderful story, shown in little vignettes flittering backwards and forwards in a very constructive and easy to understand manner, almost as if told by a friend recalling years gone by and images as seen by them, as opposed to whole truths. I actually thought of many of the French people's stories told to me by locals, during the reading of this book, which made it kind of special to me.
The time in question is war-torn France. The Germans were in occupation and the little village of Les Laveuses near Angers was not uncommon to other small villages all over France which were occupied, and where stories are still told about the relationship between the French and the German occupiers. I listen to stories of this nature frequently, though this one was quirky, sad in places, and had a moral to it that was rather like the icing on the top of the cake.
The characters within the story are well described and the mother, Mirabelle Dartigen is no exception to the rule, a lady with an ailment, with a fiery temperament, and a hidden softness that only occasionally surfaces. The children seem very real and the differences in their characters drawn out well. Framboise is the tomboy, Reine-Claude the dreamer and Cassis, the brother that shows his strength throughout the book. They are not likeable nor comfortable characters, but are very real and the childrens' perceptions of the soldiers that are present in their childhoods are understandable, childishly silly in places, though this gives the book a grace and charm that makes it so readable. Even the German soldiers that came into the lives of the main characters are well described, and humanised by clever writing.
I love the way in which Framboise discovers her mother's true character through little jottings in her album which put me in mind of a book I read about the ladies that made a huge patchwork, and the way in which their stories were interwoven. This book does that rather well and is definitely better than the writers other books, and although commercially may not have achieved the notoriety of Chocolat, to my mind, should have done, as it is a book that takes you into surprise conclusions, clever scenarios, and whilst reading it, you can actually picture the scenes and feel for the characters portrayed.
Read it. You will enjoy it. At 5.59 GBP I would say buy a new copy, as it is a book you will read again.
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Black Swan (6 April 2001)
This is the story of Framboise - no, not a bottle of raspberry liqueur (thank heavens), but rather the woman by that name from a farm on the river Loire in the French village of Les Laveuses. This is partially the story of Framboise's troubled childhood with her brother (named Casis), sister (Reine-Claude) and especially her unwell and widowed mother (who was, of course, an amazing cook) during the years of WWII and Nazi occupied France. It is also the story of her no less troubling old age - accounted from the time she returns to the village in her 'retirement', in order to open a creperie. She tries to avoid the past from painfully being dredged up by using a different name. However, we all know that mysteries and provincial villages never mix - especially when delicious food is being served by a curious stranger (who doesn't seem terribly strange) and her secrets are bound to be sniffed out to be inhaled deeply by the local folk, much like the pungent release of the scent from an orange that has just had a thumb pressed into is juicy flesh. Sorry, to give you more than this about the plot of this book might spoil your appetite, so that's all you'll get.
This is another 'culinary' novel by Harris. In fact, from her web page, you'll find that this book completed her 'food trilogy'. Reading that was both a bit surprising and a touch of a disappointment. This is because a literary trilogy would naturally mean three books telling different parts of one very long story - most likely with the same people or at least the same key families or personalities. While both Chocolat and Blackberry Wine focused on the same town, with many similar people, the main characters of those two books were both outsiders to the area. Here we have not only a new village but also the protagonist is a native born villager who returns to her old home - albeit in semi-disguise - many years later. As far as that's concerned, while you won't feel terribly 'cheated' by Blackberry Wine having some of the same characters as Chocolat, it does seem strange to have a third story in a trilogy that completely ignores all the players from the first two books. Still, this new cast are enjoyable enough so you won't hold this against Harris or this novel.
In addition, the story here is far more complex than either of the other two novels. Harris sifts together both the past and the present in almost equal measures which has been carefully balanced like a perfect recipe. In Chocolat there was a bit of that - with Vianne Rocher's remembrances and stories of her mystical mother (which were the weakest and least interesting parts of that book). In Blackberry Wine we also encounter the past - that of Jay and his own childhood and it's characters, as well as his new neighbour's more recent history. Yet in both these novels, the history of the protagonists was more of a set-up for the action of the book itself, rather than an integral part of the total story being told. Mind you, in Chocolat we get Vianne's mother as snippets in flashbacks, which point up both the magical as well as the non-magical in this story. On the other hand, Applejack Joe from Blackberry Wine practically haunts Jay in the present day, as did the bottles of home-made wine - the latter of which was an unfortunate experiment on Harris' part. (If you want a book where inanimate objects start talking to you, pick up a story by J.K. Rowling.)
In Five Quarters, however, the past is not just there for insight into the characters. The past in this book unfolds along with the present in an almost parallel time-frame. In this way we get to know Framboise both as a girl as well as an old woman, all at the same time. While this isn't a literary tool that is terribly unique, you may find that when writers use this method, they can often miss out on clarity and distinction between the past and the present, which can make their readers feel muddled when moving between the two eras of their story, or even unable to distinguish between the "then" and the "now" of the action. Another mistake when using this method is to be overly abrupt (i.e. chapter headings with the years) or obvious (i.e. referring to extremely well known events like the sinking of the Titanic in one chapter and 9/11 in the next), making one feel like the writer believes their readers are perhaps too stupid to catch more subtle references. Thankfully, this isn't the case in this book, and the transitions are both smooth and identifiable, without being 'slap in the face'.
All of this doesn't mean that there are no similarities between Five Quarters and the first two books. There are a couple of parallels that do let one see that this could be the third book in a trilogy. For instance, in Chocolat, Vianne opens a Chocolate Shop, and in Five Quarters we have Framboise opening a creperie - and both shops play important parts in these novels. In Blackberry Wine, there is the deception by Marise d'Api (Jay's neighbour) regarding both her daughter's ailment and her husband's life and death. In Five Quarters, Framboise's past is disguised by her using a different name and making up a 'new' past for herself so that those who might remember her and her family will, hopefully, not recognize her.
There is also the food aspect. Blackberry Wine deals less in the culinary and more in growing of edible items and preserving them, in particular for the production of wine. Chocolate deals mostly with the preparation and consumption of - what else - chocolate. But Five Quarters combines all of these - the growing of fruits and vegetables, the preservation of these foods as special items for present and future use, as well as the preparation and consumption of grown, bought and preserved products combined to make gourmet dishes. In this - and essentially when thinking about a 'food trilogy' - we can easily believe that Five Quarters is certainly the culminating story of the three.
As for Harris' style as well as her plot and character development, there are some inconsistencies in her writing. When you read a Joanne Harris book you'll get the feeling like the writer is chatting with you. Its almost like an old friend has come to visit and has begun to tell you a slice of their life, in a nostalgic manner. And yet, it is more artistic than that. While it isn't like someone reading floral poetry, its more like hearing a seasoned actor read a charming children's book - the best words to describe her writing would be comforting and enticing.
As for her character development, while Five Quarters is by far more plot orientated than either Chocolat or Blackberry Wine, Harris hasn't forgotten how important well rounded characters are to the essence of a good novel. Moreover, she has exceeded both Chocolat and Blackberry Wine with her shaping of her characters with her prose in this book, making them truly come alive for the readers. When thinking back over these three books, despite having seen the movie Chocolat (which can ruin one's ability to objectively picture the written characters), of these three books you'll find you can visualize the people in Five Quarters far more clearly than in the other two books. Moreover, Harris has a unique knack for getting her readers to sympathize with her characters, even when they are unsympathetic ones.
In light of all this, Joanne Harris has given us three very enjoyable reads, despite some minor niggles here and there. Five Quarters is the best of these three books, with the most well rounded and developed characters, the most involved but comprehensible plot and the most charmingly delicious descriptions of culinary designs, yet. In short, highly recommended and a rating of five stars out of five!
You might want to visit Joanne Harris' own web page which can be found at http://www.joanne-harris.co.uk/ which includes some interesting information about both the author and her works.
As always, this book is available on Amazon.co.uk (and a full list of her books there can be found at http://tinyurl.com/avnvy) in paperback for a mere £4.89 new, it has 368 pages (April 2001), Publisher: Black Swan, ISBN: 0552998834.
First there was Chocolat, then Blackberry Wine, and now there are oranges. Joanne Harris has been credited with inventing a new literary genre - "gastromance" and I for one am hooked on this indulgent and sensuous feast of a novel. You only need to look at the names of the central characters to see Harris?s preoccupation with food: Framboise (Raspberry), Cassis (Blackcurrant), Reine-Claude (Greengage), Pistache (Pistachio), Noisette (Hazelnut), Piche (Peach) and Prune (Plum). The novel centres on Framboise, or 'Boise for short. 'Boise is a froggy faced, angular, and devious little torag who is her mother's favourite, probably because she is most like her. Unlike her beautiful sister Reine-Claude, she's never going to make it as the Harvest Queen, but that doesn't stop her dreaming. The only problem with her dream is it involves running off with a German soldier - in the height of wartime? The book begins with Framboise Dartigen in her later years. She now lives back in the village where she grew up, Les Laveuses on the banks of the Loire. She runs a creperie, using the recipes left to her in her mother's album. Although left the album, she is not the only one to appreciate its contents: her unscrupulous nephew and his wife want to take it from her and use it in their own restaurant, and they threaten to expose her past unless she lends it to them. Even her own children know nothing of her sinister past, and the precious album contains not only recipes but her mothers diary entries and scribblings throughout the war, so she is not going to give it up without a fight. For she is nothing if not a fighter, just like her mother was... Known to the locals as Françoise Simon, she keeps quiet and hides her true identity from the villagers, in the belief that if they were to know who she was, it would no longer be possible to fulfill her wish to pass her retiring years in peace in the place where she grew
up. Most of the book involves the story of Framboise's childhood. We are taken on a journey back into wartime France, where she evokes a summer of both ripening berries and ripening passions. The Germans are present in the village, and there is a web of deceit revolving around black market goods and bribery. Mme Dartigen is subject to headaches, which cause her to retire to her room for days on end, leaving the children free to do as they please. Framboise, who as I have said before is a clever but somewhat evil little child devises a way of keeping her mother in headaches by using oranges! Framboise becomes infatuated with Tomas Leibniz, a charismatic German soldier who brings the children gifts of chocolate and magazines in return for information about the villagers. Things start to go wrong when the children are one day witnesses to a murder in the village? I won't spoil the story for you anymore but I hope this is enough to tempt you into getting hold of this book. I cannot recommend this novel enough. Is an absolute feast for the senses, a real page-turner, and my favourite novel out of all her offerings. Hardback 12.99 Paperback 6.99 ISBN 0-552-99883-4 Publisher: Transworld (Black Swan imprint)
W.H Smith currently have a two paperbacks for ten pounds offer (well worth checking out) which prompted a forray into a new author for me. "Five Quarters of the Orange" is not Joanne Harris' first book, but I was drawn to it by the cover - wooden pannels in front of which hang a scraping device, an orange, dried flowers and a hand grenade. Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. The Plot: Its one of those books that is largely about unravelling what has happened, so I shall be careful what I say. Framboise is the youngest of three children, her father died early on in the second world war, and the small French town she lived in was occupied by the Nazis. Her mother loved to cook. Many years later, after her mother's death, Framboise inherrited the album her mother had kept - filled with recepies and with coded messages about her life. She buys her mother's old farm from her older brother and goes back to live in the place of her childhood. However, her family have a past, and she feels she must hide her identity. The nature of that past is gradually explored as Framboise is forced to face up to certain dark events from her childhood. To make matters worse, her nephew wants her recepies for his restaurant and is prepaired to go to great lengths to 'persuade' her to relinquish them. The 'dark famly secrets' theme and the 'ghosts from my childhood' sort of stories are quite popular in literature at the moment, you don't have to look at the backs of many books to spot this. These narrative lines are clearly flagged up early on, so I spent a good deal of time looking for clues to what this particular 'dark secret' would be - nine times out of ten its all sex and death anyway. I think what makes this book work more than most in the same mold, is Harris's use of first person narration - we get almost the entire thing from Framboise's perspective, with cryptic scribblings from
her mother thrown in now and then. I won't be spoiling things if I say this means you only get one perspective on what happened, rather than any clear sense of what the past actually held. The book unravells far enough to make sense, but holds enough mystery to leave you thinking. Little mysteries, like the potency of the orange, are never explained, and I have to say I really liked this. All is not confessed, and some characters take their secrets to the grave with them, which makes it a lot more real in many ways. The book is I think less about the unravelling and more about the effects of keeping difficult secrets - a good many lives are blighted by characetrs who cannot face whatever it is that lies in their personal history, who cannot let go of the past, or speak of it. It's a book about how flawed and faliable people are, that good people can do the wrong things, that it is far too easy t make mistakes, that sometimes it is hard to see what actually matters. A final note - like a sumptuous meal, this book is best consumed slowly and with thought. Take your time over it, leaving brief intervals between the courses, let the flavours settle, give yourself time to think about it and I suspect the whole expereince of reading it will be much improved. Don't do what I did, and, caught in the grip of a very bad bout of insomnia, read the whole thing in about 5 hours - you get a mental form of indigestion which is a tad unfair to the book.
Joanne Harris was born to a French mother and grew up in a small Yorkshire village, I guess that is why most of her books are set in France and revolve around the small village mentality. By small village mentality, I mean the fact that everybody's business must be known, people must conform to a set of village rules and the individual is frowned upon, if you are not at Mass or the village fair you are an outsider and the village mob will not accept you. It is clear from Harris' writing that she grew up with cross-cultural influences and this gives all of her books a distinct flavour. It is of no surprise then that in Five Quarters Of The Orange, Harris once again writes about a small village community in Northern France, this time the fictional location of Les Leveuses. Harris came from a line of great cooks, fantastic home recipes passed down through generations and once again food provides an escapist theme in Five Quarters Of The Orange, with sensuous home delights cooked up by the mother of the story's narrator, and latter by the narrator herself. Framboise Dartigen is the youngest offspring of Mirabelle; Mirabelle's husband has been killed off fighting in the Second World War and the plot line centres around the events that follow this tragic loss and their long lasting effect during and after occupied France of the 1940s. Framboise has returned to Les Leveuses following her families shaming a generation earlier, she returns to the same farm, to the same families and the same closed minded mentality; except she returns in secret as Framboise Simon, having lost her own husband to a freak fishing accident. The villagers seem none the wiser, although she keeps herself to herself, concentrating on building up a thriving small café and fighting off advances for the secret recipes that Mirabelle left to Framboise, from her nephew's wife, Laure. Much like another of Harris' books, Blackberry Wine, Fi
ve Quarters Of The Orange is written partly by way of the flashback, except this time the effect is much more solid and less jumpy. Framboise tells the story of what happened that fateful summer in wartime France when the Germans occupied the village and drove division into the very heart of the community. She tells the terrible secret that destroyed the family and that she is still all these years latter trying to keep hidden, for fear of the consequences, she feels that she must see out her remaining years in her childhood home, but that if the truth of her identity or the events of long past are revealed then her life will once again be destroyed. Five Quarters Of The Orange, concentrates on several topics: the burden of a lone mother with three kids to look after; the strain on a community of occupation by enemy soldiers; the blackmail and corruption that war brings; the long time divisions that separate families, causing such bitter resentment; and the fact that whatever the secret maybe, it is never as bad as it seems to the harbourer and the release of the truth can provide a blissful release in the holder of the secret, secrets rot the person and leave them bitter and spiteful. Harris is one of those authors that you can easily identify, whether it be by the art work on the covers of her novels - all pastels and with that secretly placed photograph of a member of her family - or by the very writing itself. One look at the cover and a perusal of the first few pages and you would know the author, even if there were no name on the cover. I would describe Harris' work as languid prose and this book is no different, descriptions of people, places and emotions are beautifully realised and the description of the food is enough to make you drool all over the book. Characters are wonderfully depicted, from the venomous niece in law, Laure, after secret family recipes for her own self glorification, to her ineffectual and weedy husband Yannic
k, the hen pecked male, with a spinal column as floppy as an Angora rabbit's ears (apologies to any Angora rabbit reading this review!) What shines through in the writing and the storyline is Harris' intolerance of hypocrites and bigots: ""I don't know what makes him so holy anyhow. He was only coming to watch the Boches himself." Reinette shrugged." ""Jews," said my mother. "They've got a knack for making money. Charges the earth for a piece of silk, and never paid a penny for it herself." Her tone was unresentful, almost admiring. When I asked her what Jews did she shrugged dismissively, I guess she didn't really know." Harris makes clear in her work that she feels that the world should respect, tolerate and judge less and I applaud this point of view. Adding another interesting dimension to Five Quarters Of The Orange is the fact that Harris based the book on her own grand-father's recollections of what it was like to live in occupied Vichy France; there is a real sense that Framboise's story and the village mentality could be transported to any village within occupied France and this gives the book a wide appeal. My only slight criticism is the book's slow beginning: this is not a book that grabs you from the opening chapter, indeed it takes 80-100 pages for the reader to be absorbed into the storyline, but once absorbed the previous 80 or so pages add to the depth of the read. However, once the story is in full flow, this is a book that totally consumes you and it races along to a startling revelation and the conclusion that nothing is more dangerous than corrupting and manipulating childhood innocence. Five Quarters Of The Orange is currently out in paperback, priced £6.99 and published by Black Swan, although is available at the moment for half price on Amazon. I have the hardback version and at 432 pages lon
g, this is a very absorbing and gratifying read, I only wish that I had got round to reading it sooner. Intelligent, witty, subtle and enchanting, with a few thought provoking paragraphs and themes, not as good as Chocolat, but better than Blackberry Wine, this is thoroughly recommended.
My mum bought this book from Tescos of all places, the last time we went, and having read ‘Blackberry Wine’ (although not Chocolat) and having enjoyed it, I really wanted to read this one. <The plot> The story starts off with an old lady telling us about her current life, how she moves back to the village of her birth and sets up a really successful creperie, unknown to the other villagers who hated her family before they were forced to leave when she was a child. The story is set in a small, sleepy village in the Loire Valley in which everyone knows each other, in the middle of World War 2. The village (Les Lauveuses) has been occupied by German soldiers. The main character is Frambois, a girl who was named after one of her mother’s famous raspberry liquors, who is about 9 years old. She is not close to her mother, who is cruel and frequently suffers from migraines brought on by oranges. She also has a brother and sister, Cassis and Reine-Claude who she has drifted apart from. However, she soon finds out that her brother and sister have been giving the Germans information about their fellow villagers in return for magazines and sweets, and they befriend a young German called Tomas, who Frambois gradually falls in love with. However, the plot soon turns bad, and with the help of her mothers journal, the old Frambois begins to piece together what exactly happened; her mother was a drug addict and frequently visited the black market. At the end, we learn why her family was so hated in the village; it was believed that her mother shot Tomas, and in return, the Germans shot 6 innocent villagers. It is right at the end, in the last chapters when this is finally revealed how he actually died, as Frambois is troubled by her nephew and his wife who threaten to tell everyone about what really happened. I’m not going to give away the ending though! <The setting> The story is set in Les Lauveuses, a rural village on th
e banks of the Loire. It has an old population who seem to know each other very well, and although this was set in the World War, it may be a bit unrealistic. Rarely, the siblings go to a slightly bigger town to go to the cinema, and trade secretly with the Germans. The banks of the Loire is a place that is special to Framboise, both because she loves fishing and because she gets to meet with Tomas here. I thought that the setting were brought to life very well, and I did get the feeling that I could picture that places really well. <The characters> Frambois is the main character, and although we learn that she is hard, and similar to her mother, we do like her and we want the best to happen to her in the book. She describes her mother nad her brother and sister very unemotionally, and we do not get particularly attached to them. Tomas, although a German, is a ‘goody’, and I think that a moral of this is that we should see people for who they really are and not for what ‘side’ they take. <The writing style> The style is very easy to follow, and would be ideal both for the casual reader and someone who reads a lot. One thing that could be criticised is the flicking between the different times, although this is not as prominent as in ‘Blackberry Wine’, and the reader soon adjusts to it. All of it is written in the voice and point of view of Framboise, although there are extracts from her mother, where we realise, maybe she isn’t as terrible as we originally thought. <What is the effect of the novel on the reader? > This is a really good book, it’s interesting and different enough to get you (well, me) hooked, and is probably the sort of ‘light-reading’ book you’d read before going to sleep. It’s a book that really makes you think. You end up thinking that the enemy can be nice, and that the so-called good side can be bad. When you’re a ch
ild sides in a war don’t matter so much, and maybe that’s what we should do now.
In “Five Quarters Of The Orange” Joanne Harris continues with the foodie theme which she used so effectively in her best selling novel “Chocolat” (which was subsequently made into a film starring Juliette Binoche.) However, this latest novel is not quite as whimsical as “Chocolat”, and the underlying theme is quite disturbing and even sinister. Framboise Dartigen is a woman “d’un certain age”, who has, in her twilight years, returned to the small village of Les Laveuses on the banks of the Loire, where she grew up during the war years with her elder brother Cassis and her sister Reine-Claude.She has come back to reclaim and restore the derelict farmhouse which once belonged to her mother, Mirabelle, a woman who is still reviled and hated by the villagers of Les Laveuses.She is “an evil legend.” Memories are long here, and wounds still open and raw. For this reason, Framboise dare not reveal her true identity, and to the villagers she is “la veuve Simon.”- the widow Simon. Framboise’s inheritance from her mother seems, on the surface, rather pathetic…just an old scrapbook of Mirabelle’s favourite recipes, interspersed with anecdotes and more mysterious ramblings, many written while she was in the throes of one of the many, tortuous migraine attacks which assailed her constantly and which sent her half-mad with pain. But here, in these pages, are the clues to the past. Using some of the recipes from this album, Framboise opens up a restaurant in Les Laveuses, called Crepes Framboise, which becomes very popular and thrives. Framboise settles down to life in the village of her childhood, secure and safe in her anonymity, which she will be, so long as no one finds out who she really is. But, like the winding currents of the treacherous Loire, the tendrils of the past reach out and back in time. Framboise takes us on a trip back to wartime Fr
ance, to a time of deceit and betrayal, where neighbour plotted against neighbour, where friends eyed on another with suspicion, where fingers pointed and tongues wagged. A time when no one really knew what went on behind the tightly closed window shutters, where illicit dealings were being conducted in secret. A time when childhood innocence was lost, never to be regained and where seemingly harmless liaisons led to appalling and unforgivable tragedy. A time when the road to Hell was paved with many a good intention. When the worst accusation that could be levelled at you was “Collaborator!!” Whether it was true, or not. When Framboise’s greedy and unprincipled nephew, Yannick, threatens to expose her true identity unless she allows him to use the recipes from her mother’s album for his own, up-market restaurant, she knows just what the consequences could be for her. But Framboise also knows the truth of what happened all those years ago…and the truth is not what it seems. Also, Framboise has the blood of the redoubtable Mirabelle flowing through her veins. She will not go quietly. As Framboise prepares herself for the day when her real identity will be revealed to the villagers who have come to regard her as their friend, she uncovers more half-forgotten memories, and is at long last, able to lay some ghosts to rest. There are some sinister undercurrents in this novel…a recurring one is the deadly-flowing waters of the Loire, seemingly smooth and calm on the surface, but ready to entrap the foolish. And below the murky waters hides “Old Mother”, a cunning and evil pike, who has evaded all attempts at capture. Then there are the “bad spells” suffered by Mirabelle, which drive her to the edge of insanity, but which provide brief spells of freedom for her children. Add to this the presence of the German occupiers in the village and how the villagers feel about the
m, and a childish infatuation which leads to tragedy. I became a fan of Joanne Harris after reading “Chocolat” and I did wonder if she could enthral as much with this latest novel. I should never have doubted it. “Five Quarters Of The Orange” is a compelling novel which you simply don’t want to put down. It has a way of engaging your senses so that you feel drawn into the pages and begin to feel that you are actually there in Les Laveuses.Much of this is achieved, I think, because the main character speaks in the first person, so that the reader feels that he/she is being addressed directly, and it is a device which works well. And why FIVE quarters of the orange? Well, there is an explanation but I don’t want to reveal it here…you will have to read the novel and find out. I can promise you that you won’t be disappointed. “Five Quarters Of The Orange” is published in hard cover by DoubleDay at a price of £12.99. Enjoy!
Wine (red), check. Breeze, check. Comfy(ish) chair, check. Sea murmur, check. Book, check. Divine! Start reading... "They only went occasionally to the river to swin, Reine-Claude entering the water gingerly, and only in the deeper, clearer parts, where snakes were unlikely to venture. I sought their attention, making extravagant dives from the bank and swimming underwater for such long stretches that Reine-Claude would scream that I was drowned. Even so I felt them slipping from me little by little, and loneliness overwhelmed me." ... " - seems like death always brings out the rats from the woodwork in any place, and in Les Laveuses the rats were envy and hypocrisy, false piety and greed." Or else, have you ever heard October being described like this? "October, fleeting and sappy-sweet with it reddish-gold light and early white frosts and the leaves turning brilliantly, is a different matter, a magical time, a last gleeful defiance in the face of the approaching cold." Such are the small pleasures of life. Ahh... But enough violin-playing. It's pathetic, perhaps. Kitsch, you might say? But who cares! It's great fun. So there. The world is essentially divided into people who will readily identify with the above state of mind, and those who think it pathetic. The former will know that the key ingredient in the above recipe is the "book" - choose a bad book and you've ruined your perfect evening. I was lucky, then, since my book was "Five Quarters of the Orange" by Joanne Harris (the one of "Chocolat" fame). I was doubly lucky considering how I chose the book. I'd been meaning to buy it, of course, but would probably have waited for the paperback. Then, on my last visit to London I'd taken as reading material a Quentin Jardine book, "Thursday Legends" (free tip: NEV
ER read his stuff, makes the Hardy Boys seem like Nobel-for-Literature material). For the first time in my life, probably, I stopped half-way through (deciding to follow a friend's advice that life is too short to read useless books), rushed off to the nearest Waterstones, and the rest, as they say, is history... (no it isn't, of course, so I'll have to tell you, he he: there was an irresistible £3 off offer at the store, and the incredibly beautiful cover design did the rest). The cover, don't even get me started. Quite simply, it's one of the more "I-need-to-buy-this-book-NOW" covers I've seen recently, and given my daytime job it's one of those covers I'm damnedly jealous of! Damn it, even the format of the hardback is unusual! Enough ramblings, and let's get to the nitty-gritty. "Five Quarters of the Orange" is, quite simply, a sublime read. I loved "Chocolat", but here Harris goes into more depth and complexity. The whole story is crafted with the tender hands of a genuine artist immersed in her creation. Gone are the chocolate degustations, instead we have to-die-for recipes. Food is always a staple of Harris' books, it seems. And I, for one, have no objection to that! As in Chocolat - which "Five Quarters" reminds of without ever falling into deja-vu boredom - we are in small-French-village territory, with a solitary woman braving the mistrust and ostracism of an entire community and its institutions. For a moment I thought I'd be getting a "Chocolat II", but it wasn't the case. The village here is Les Laveuses, washed by the Loire river, where la veuve Simon (the widow Simon), beloved if a touch eccentric old lady from out of town, runs Crepe Framboise - a delightful small restaurant serving out of this world delicacies, rigorously home-made and fresh. The mouth waters at Harris' descriptions of food. I'll leave the pleasure to those of
you who intend meeting la veuve Simon in the flesh. Her first name, by the way, is Framboise ("She named each one of use, on a seeming whim, after a fruit and a recipe - Cassis, for her thick blackcurrant cake, Framboise, her raspberry liqueur, and Reinette for her greengage tart, after the reine-claude - greengages - which grew against the south wall of the house, thick as grapes and syrupy with wasps in midsummer"), and she hides a secret: in her childhood, during the Second World War, she'd escaped the village with her siblings and mother in the face of the hatred and contempt of an entire village. No-one knows her secret nowadays... We read, simultaneously, of two stories: the first is la veuve Simon's life in Les Laveuses in her old age, when her new-found serenity is threatened by the discovery of her whereabouts by her nephew and niece, owners of a trendy restaurant in the city. The second story is Framboise's childhood in Les Laveuses, with a hardened mother at war with her children, and struggling with the curse of the orange (ha, you'll have to read the book to find that one out! Oh, by the way, there's also the reason why the book is called "Five Quarters of the Orange" - traces its origin to a significant and unexpected event). The three siblings make the acquaintance of a German soldier stationed in the village, who introduces them to the joys of the free market and more... The story rambles (in the good sense) and twists and turns in totally unexpected ways, and Harris reveals slivers of the truth at strategic points, without giving too much away. Unlike Margaret Atwood's Booker winner (with all due respect and all), we're not spoon-fed anything, and we're not led on to guess what really went on in Les Laveuses - at least not until Harris decides we're mature enough to know! The lush descriptions, of place, persons and food, are staples of Harris' prose. They are ev
ocative without being too syrupy, and the food metaphor is extended without being stretched. She has an unmatched talent for evoking taste in the written word. The whole story has, apart from texture, a taste to it. Actually, to get an idea of the feel of the novel, imagine Gerald Durrell's "My Family and other Animals" without the side-splitting humour and with an added attic of secrets and hidden guilt. The tone is entirely different, obviously, but the attention to the small details, the free pleasures of life, is completely there. My intention was to read "Blackberry Wine", Harris' quasi-sequel to "Chocolat", before this one, then the above-mentioned turn of events led me to it. Harris equalled and surpassed her chocolate effort. If I had to find a defect, it's the suspicion that Harris had a corner of her left eye spying a possible film adaptation. Certain sequences are just made for such transposition. Oh well, good luck to her... a book this good certainly deserves to be widely known, even if through the necessary evil of film! So, my friends, how's the mood? Chair, wine and breeze ready? Then make yourselves comfortable, get reading and get lost in Les Laveuses.
I was lucky enough to read a proof copy of this wonderful masterpiece. My boss at the book shop writes reviews for The Bookseller and he was sent this book to review. I loved Chocolat, and was desperate to read more of her books. It is mouth watering. Joanne Harris is a descriptive genius. You can taste the words from the page, they melt in your mouth. The book is set in France and is based around an old woman trying to hide her past. She has returned to the village that she grew up in, but she is keeping her identity hidden because of a mysterious event that happened when she was young. Gradually the story unravels and as we learn more about her, the main character is also learning about herself and dealing with the feelings she had ignored and kept hidden for so long. I really don't want to give to much away, I have a tendency to ruin the plot for so many people. Please just read it. For foodies it may mean putting on a little weight ( unfortunetly the book makes you very hungry), but believe me it is worth it.
Set in occupied France, this is the story of a successful woman whose carefully constructed and hidden past threatens to be exposed by her profiteering nephew.