A Review: 'Chocolat', By Joanne Harris

March 30, 2013

A wonderful book to enjoy over a relaxing Easter weekend.

Summary: The novel is set in a small rural town in France, 'Lansquenet-sous-Tannes'. It tells the story of a travelling lady, Vianne Rocher (a single mum), and her daughter, (Anouk) as these outsiders attempt to settle in to the local community. The locals are stubborn and traditional disliking change and the alien customs that they bring with them. The book explores the awakening of the traditional and straight-laced village when aroused with the pleasure of Vianne's chocolaterie 'La Céleste Praline.' The outraged parish priest, Francis Reynaud, feels threatened by what he interprets as a challenge to his religious sentiments, chiefly with relation to Lenten vows. Religion is an interesting theme which is interrogated through Vianne's superstitious mother's ideas- as a tarot card reader. Paganism in amongst the Easter celebrations is also threatening for the priest who condemns all of the chocolate festivities. 

Desperately Vianne's mother had spent her life running from the 'Black Man', (a tarot card), and now it is Vianne's turn to flee or embrace his presence. The novel takes us through their struggle to become integrated and her more emotional and challenging struggle of remaining rooted in a set place permanently.

My thoughts

It is beautifully written and has vivid descriptions throughout. I found it an uplifting and easy read. I would suggest that if you are on a diet, and avoiding sweet treats, you don't reach for this book. The mention of croissants, pain au chocolats, florentines, champagne truffles, coconut mice, chocolate almonds, marzipan fruits etc is enough to make anyone ache with yearning.

I particularly enjoyed Harris' description of the town's flock-like inhabitants. She amusingly depicts their flaws whilst celebrating the free-thinking non-conformist characters both as brave and proud.

Vianne Rocher is an interesting yet mysterious character; she holds a majestic quality of insight- one which enables her to determine the inhabitants' very favourite sweet treat, but leaves us questioning whether she has witch-like characteristics. 
Lastly, the resounding idea that regardless of religion the aim to strive for is a pursuit of happiness is one that I entirely agree with. 

In essence, it is a heart-warming, and easy read- perfect to take on holiday, to enjoy on a lazy Easter weekend, and particularly as the cold weather fails to leaves us as we reach for the same comforting hot cocoa that Vivianne embraces as a solution to any problem.

Finally, the thoughts of the good people at goodreads:

'Chocolat's every page offers a description of chocolate to melt in the mouths of chocoholics, francophiles, armchair gourmets, cookbook readers, and lovers of passion everywhere. It's a must for anyone who craves an escapist read..'