Saturday, March 24, 2007

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

March has brought an end to the rain. The sky is raw now, a screeching blue between fast-moving clouds, and a sharpening wind has risen during the night, gusting in corners, rattling windows. The church bells ring wildly as if they too have caught a little of this sudden change. The weathervane turn-turns against the wheeling sky, its rusty voice rising shrilly.

Chocolat tells the story of Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk. A single mother and a drifter, Vianne arrives in Lansquanet-sous-Tannes during a carnival, drawn by the wind. She and her daughter open a chocolate shop in a former bakery and take up residence in the rooms above. Across from the chocolate shop, La Praline, is the village church, and Vianne's tempting shop angers the the local priest, Reynaud. How dare she tempt the villagers during the season of Lent? When Vianne decides to hold a chocolate carnival on Easter Sunday, Reynaud decides he must do his best to run her out of town. But, Vianne's shop and her touch of magic coax many of the locals to give in to happiness and their newfound strength may be too much for the father to fight.

I couldn't find an image of decent size, so I plunked my copy of Chocolat on our ugly old couch (we keep moving it closer and closer to our front door in the hope, I think, that one of us will suddenly invite a charity to haul it off) and photographed it. I just love that cover; I'd like to dive right into the photograph and walk the streets of France.

The book, though? Hmm, I don't know. This is another one I had mixed feelings about. Beautiful prose, achingly detailed descriptions that sometimes made me salivate (the candy, not the thought of Johnny Depp as Roux - okay, kidding), spirited and three-dimensional characters . . . there's a lot to love about Chocolat. I love Armande, the carefree woman about to turn 80 who chooses to defy her uptight daughter by wearing a bright red, silk slip and secretly meeting her grandson, Luc, in the shop. Guillaume is another lovely character, whose spirit rises with the help of Vianne and Armande after the loss of his beloved pet. Every character is believable and resonates, in some way, with a touch of familiarity; they're utterly believable.

What did I not like? Again, I'm not certain, but I'd say it might have to do with a feeling of negativity pulsing through the book - that toward organized religion. Vianne is a witch and this is reflected in the sachets she posts on the door frames, the way she forks her fingers to ward off evil. She's a good person and the priest is basically evil; he's the leader of a church for all the wrong reasons, justifies his actions regardless of how terrible they are and turns his personal vendetta into a church issue. There are plenty of pompous, self-righteous church leaders, no doubt; but it just seemed to me that the story was, in part, a castigation of Christianity and that didn't set well with me. They were both fighting their own personal demons; that I liked. The lengthy descriptions of various candies also were a bit tiresome. I'm impatient with an overload of detail, at least at this point in my life; that hasn't always been true.

I actually enjoyed the movie a bit more than the book, in many ways, as I thought the movie had a slightly lighter touch and more of a humorous spin. And, of course, it had Johnny Depp. I could only imagine him while reading the book and I had to keep mentally changing his hair color; red just doesn't suit him, in my mind. I can't remember if his hair is red in the movie, as it is in the book.

Since I liked the characters so much and thought Harris's prose was lovely, I feel compelled to give it an above-average rating and I will definitely read this author, again.


This is my 11th TBR book. So far, I've read the following from my stacks, this year:

The Nazi Officer's Wife - Elizabeth Hahn Beer
Summer of My German Soldier - Bette Greene
God is an Englishman - R. F. Delderfield (also a chunkster)
The Red Badge of Courage - Stephen Crane
The African Queen - C. S. Forester
The Captain and The Enemy - Graham Greene
Firehouse - David Halberstam
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll
First Light - Geoffrey Wellum
Stormbreaker - Anthony Horowitz
and, of course, Chocolat - Joanne Harris

11 down, 1 to go! Hope everyone's having a lovely weekend!

Bookfool, off for a nice soak in the tub


  1. Yes, I remember not being happy with the negative portrayal of the priest. Haven't seen the movie, though I probably should!
    I can't believe you've already read 11 of your TBR books. I'm only 1 down, and have a feeling I should have chosen some easier/more fun books :-)

  2. You've put your finger on something has always bothered me about Harris' books. I've always had an uneven experience with Harris, and I think the negativity you speak of is exactly what comes through. Maybe that's why I liked Gentlemen & Players better than the others--the negativity was out in the open from the beginning, not buried in family life or love story.

  3. I enjoyed the movie a bit more too, especially the ending. And of course Johnny and the rest of the cast are pretty good! ;P

  4. I haven't read this yet, but I have seen the movie (of course! It stars Johnny Depp *heart*), but I wonder if it was less a castigation of organized religion and more of an examination about surface appearance and the difference between good and evil.

    Vianne with her free-wheeling ways and witchcraft should be a dark-hearted character, but she is actually pure, full of love and life, while the minister, Reynaud, should be virtuous by way of his profession is at best small-minded and at worst down right evil.

    I don't think Harris meant to disparage religion or all religous people, she just wanted to say that people are not what they appear on the outside.

    Great review, Bookfool. I will read this sooner or later (I know I have a copy around here somewhere.) ;)

  5. LC,

    I need to dig up the movie and watch it, again, if only for adding a little Johnny Depp to my day! As to the TBR books . . . I don't think I've stuck to my list at all. I'm completely impulsive and mood-driven; the classics challenge helped me, though, because I enjoy classics and have quite a few lying around waiting for me to crack their covers. I don't think it hurts to divert from your list - just reading books you already have owned for 6 months or more is the real point, right? So, why not go back to the stacks and find some you consider more fun?


    It's kind of comforting to know I'm not the only one who feels that way about JH's writing. Maybe I should make Gentlemen and Players my next read by her (not right away, though). Thanks for mentioning it.


    I've got to find my copy of the movie! It's been long enough that I don't remember the ending, but I do remember it was more satisfying. It does have an excellent cast!


    That was exactly what I thought when I saw the movie; I didn't see it as an attack on religion at all. The book gave me a completely different feeling. Vianne has a lot of issues that aren't apparent in the movie and there's definitely an undercurrent of negativity directed at organized religion. She doesn't seem quite so sweet and pure in the book. I don't know that I'm expressing it well, but let me know your thoughts if you get to the book, any time soon!!

  6. You are so right about the challenge Bookfool. I'm an idiot for feeling I have to stick to RULES. I feel lighter and freer now and am off to the shelves to pull down some fun books :-)

  7. LC,

    Yippee, go for it! Reading is fun!

  8. I have to agree with you that this is one of the VERY few cases where I felt the movie was better than the book. Still, it's a good read for LENT!

  9. Malady,

    I didn't even think about the fact that we're right in the middle of Lent!!!

  10. I never read the book, but I did see the movie (no, I can't pass up anything with Johnny Depp either!) But I don't think the movie made out the church to be evil. That seems harsh, and I don't remember the movie being quite so harsh!! It was more about attitude and convictions.

    I've never read any of Joanne Harris books. I do have Holy Fools at home. Just haven't found time to read it!

  11. Stephanie,

    That's how I felt about the movie. I didn't think it was negative toward the church at all, more like that particular person (the priest) made it his personal mission to drive her away. It was done so that it was also humorous, so I was really quite surprised that the book seemed so much more negative. I still liked it. I just like the movie better. :)

  12. Wow! You've already read 11 of your TBR books?! I've only read 3 of each TBR and Chunkster challenge books. Good job!

    I think I liked Chocolat better than you did. And while I liked the movie, it seemed to follow the book so closely, I got a little bored. I probably should've waited longer between the two. Of course, I'll watch Johnny any ol' time! :)

  13. Les,

    I haven't stuck to my list at all, but yes . . . 11 from the stacks. The challenge has definitely helped me to think about the fact that I periodically need to insert a book from the TBRs, rather than just grabbing the latest thing to enter the house (always tempting because those are the ones that generate the most excitement).

    I'm not surprised you liked Chocolat better than I did; it really seemed like your type of book. I still haven't found my copy of the movie, so who knows when I'll get to see it, again. I like to compare a movie to its book after reading, but there's no hurry, apart from the fact that I think it's about time for a little Johnny Depp viewing. :)

  14. Yep. You say here everything I didn't even try to say. I still liked the book, too. I had this feeling that I *SHOULD* get more upset about the anti-religiousness.

  15. Care,

    Obviously, I wasn't disturbed enough by the anti-religiousness to give up on the book. The writing was good; there's a lot to like. Plus, I kept thinking of Johnny Depp in that role and who doesn't want to have an excuse to imagine Johnny Depp for hours and hours? ;)


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