by Joanne Harris
This little gem has been around for awhile, so I’m glad I finally picked it up. Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk have spent their lives on the move. They flit from town to town, never staying in one place for too long. When they stumble upon a festival in a small French town and decide to stay for awhile. They open a Chocolate shop in the middle of Lent season, which makes them the focus of the local priest’s ire.
The novel is so charming that you can’t help being swept away by the magic in it. There are some amazing characters each of whom made the book worth reading. There’s Roux, the local gypsy who is hardworking, but can’t let go of his pride. Lovely Josephine Muscat whose spirit has been broken by her cruel husband; her transformation is one of the most beautiful aspects of the story. The strange, cruel priest Reynaud makes an interesting villain for the story. A sweet elderly man Guillaume and his dog Charly are regulars at the shop. Then there is my favorite, Armande, a strong-willed woman with a sharp wit and a soft spot for her grandson Luc.
In addition to wonderful characters there’s some meat to the story. It touches on the relationship between religion and community. It looks at spousal abuse, care for the elderly, prejudice between different groups of people and more. It held just the right balance of these elements and great storytelling for me.
BOTTOM LINE: I really loved the story and I felt so connected to the characters. Plus the descriptions of the small provincial village and the chocolate treats were mouth-watering. It made me want to hop on a plane to France and visit a chocolate shop. I liked the pieces from the priest’s POV the least, but overall I was a big fan.
p.s. This is a rare case where I think I enjoyed the movie as much as the book. I actually saw it first, but even when I compared the two I still think it holds up well.
“Politics, music, chess, religion, rugby, poetry – they swoop and segue from one topic to another like gourmets at a buffet who cannot bear to leave any dish untasted.”
“Josephine looked doubtful, ‘I don’t see how anyone can celebrate dying,’ she said at last.
‘You don’t,’ I told her. ‘Life is what you celebrate. All of it. Even it’s end.’”
“…she put her face against the counter, and cried silently. I let her. I didn’t say it would be okay. I made no effort to comfort her. Sometimes it’s better to leave things as they are, to let grief take its course.”