Book Review: Chocolat by Joanne Harris

I started this book with no preconceived notions as I had never heard of this book or watched the movie before picking it up from the library shelf. So it was just a casual read. From the cover and the name, I expected a clichéd, cheesy romance story. However I am glad to announce that I was proved wrong. This book, in no way portrays a romance between the two main characters. So along with a book review, you also get a lesson of “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover”.

Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk (and Anouk’s imaginary pet rabbit) are wanderers who have spent their lives travelling place to place, never staying at one place for too long. On Mardi Gras, they stumble upon a quaint little French town, Lansquenet-sous-Tannes attracted by the beautiful festivities. They rather enjoy themselves at the festival and decide to stay. Vianne rents a bakery and transforms it into a charming chocolate shop, something unheard of in the town. These two turn heads and invite curiosity and hostility from the nosey townspeople. Vianne sparks the wrath of the village priest, Father Reynaud, who thinks that opening such a shop right in front of his church, in the month of Lent, a time of fasting, is an insult, and a menace, to religion. He also doesn’t approve of Vianne because of her refusal to attend church or confession, and convinces some of his parishioners to stay away from the “evil” chocolate shop.

He believes Vianne is some kind of a witch or sorcerer who was a threat to the Church and the people’s faith. Whether Vianne does  have any supernatural powers or could perform magic, is never clarified, she denies any mention of it.

“I sell dreams, small comforts, sweet harmless temptations to bring down a multitude of saints crashing among the hazels and nougatines”

A little bit of magic, good people, bad people, gypsies, little songs in French, an imaginary friend, love, loss, mystery and more chocolate drink than I could have imagined; this is a fascinating book.

You NEED to have a ready supply of chocolates when you read this book. 

The descriptions will make you yearn for chocolates and hot chocolate drinks. That’s a guarantee because I don’t even love chocolates that much, but still I had unbearable cravings.

The story alternates between the first person narratives of Vianne and  Père Reynaud. Most chapters tell Vianne’s story, but some are told through the eyes of Reynaud, as he speaks of his fear, desires and crimes to someone only referred to as “mon père”. This allows the readers to understand the two characters and their complex personalities and opposing opinions more intimately.

An aspect I really loved about this book was that the minor characters and the sub-plots were as 3-dimensional as the major ones. The sub-plots were beautifully interwoven with the main plot and were relevant to the development to the story. Each and every character was well rounded and memorable.

The ending of the book is not conclusive and left open to interpretation. You are left wondering what Vianne and Anouk’s decision would be – another adventure or stability at Lansquenet?

“Places do not lose their identity, however far one travels. It is the heart that begins to erode over time. The face in the hotel mirror seems blurred some mornings, as if by too many casual looks. By ten the sheets will be laundered, the carpet swept. The names on the hotel registers change as we pass. We leave no trace as we pass on. Ghostlike, we cast no shadow.”

 

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