Friday, April 3, 2009

Chocolat by Joanne Harris (29/81)

category: Books by Joanne Harris
C1999 242pages 4stars

When I was a child, I used to listen in terror to the story of the gingerbread house, of the witch who tempted little children in and ate them. I look at her shop, all wrapped in shining paper like a present waiting to be unwrapped, and I wonder how many people, how many souls, she has already tempted beyond redemption.

Father Reynaud first spotted Vianne Rocher during the carnival celebration and when their eyes met he had a feeling that she was trouble. He began to worry when Vianne settled her Chocolaterie directly across from his church. Seeing the shop open on Sunday mornings, he fears her wares are tempting his flock to break their dutiful fasts. So Reynaud denounces Vianne's sweets directly from the pulpit. He makes his own diet more stringent, as an example to the devout, even though he secretly dreams of her dark confections. But his plan backfires. Instead of closing down, Vianne announces a Grand Festival du Chocolate to be held on Easter Sunday morning and Reynaud knows he must now take matters into his own hands.

When I started this novel, I did not realize that the Lenten season played such a big role in it. I actually gave up chocolate for Lent a few years ago, and the memory of that experience, I am sure, heightened my appreciation of Chocolat.
They say that every story has two sides and I really enjoyed reading the alternating passages from Vianne's and Reynaud's perspectives. Even though they are not labeled as such, I could tell immediately which character was speaking, and that, in my mind, meant that Harris did a good job of giving each a distinct voice.
I read the book in one day and I have to say that it felt perfectly self contained - it was neither too short nor excessively drawn out. I've been reading some longish books recently so I appreciated such a succinct story.
I am not really one to expound on themes and motifs, because I'm not really good at that, but I could not help but notice how much the color red appeared throughout the text. Not just on Vianne and Anouk but gradually on all her regular customers. Red scarfs, red coats, red dresses. It was utterly pervasive. I took it to mean that they were all awakening to life, to passion and vitality. But that's my own opinion, make of it what you will.
Very enjoyable. I will never look at an Easter Basket the same way again! Now, onto the sequel!


Yesterday Toinette Arnauld was eating - eating! - in the confessional. I could smell the sweetness on her breath, but I had to pretend to maintain anonymity.
"Blesh me, mon pere , I have shinned." I could hear her chewing, hear the flat little sucking sounds she made against her teeth. I listened in growing rage as she confessed to a list of trifling sins that I barely even heard, the smell of chocolate growing even more pungent in the enclosed space by the second. Her voice was thick with it, and I felt my own mouth moisten in sympathy. Finally I could not bear it any longer.

A hundred children will awaken to the sound of Easter bells, and their first thought will not be, He is risen! but Chocolates! Easter Chocolates!

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