Greeted as "an amazement of riches ... few readers will be able to resist" by The New York Times, Chocolat is an enchanting novel about a small French town turned upside down by the arrival of a bewitching chocolate confectioner, Vianne Rocher, and her spirited young daughter.
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Vianne Rocher and her 6-year-old daughter, Anouk, arrive in the small village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes--"a blip on the fast road between Toulouse and Bourdeaux"--in February, during the carnival. Three days later, Vianne opens a luxuriant chocolate shop crammed with the most tempting of confections and offering a mouth-watering variety of hot chocolate drinks. It's Lent, the shop is opposite the church and open on Sundays, and Francis Reynaud, the austere parish priest, is livid.
One by one the locals succumb to Vianne's concoctions. Joanne Harris weaves their secrets and troubles, their loves and desires, into her third novel, with the lightest touch. There's sad, polite Guillame and his dying dog; thieving, beaten-up Joséphine Muscat; schoolchildren who declare it "hypercool" when Vianne says they can help eat the window display--a gingerbread house complete with witch. And there's Armande, still vigorous in her 80s, who can see Anouk's "imaginary" rabbit, Pantoufle, and recognizes Vianne for who she really is. However, certain villagers--including Armande's snobby daughter and Joséphine's violent husband--side with Reynaud. So when Vianne announces a Grand Festival of Chocolate commencing Easter Sunday, it's all-out war: war between church and chocolate, between good and evil, between love and dogma.
Reminiscent of Herman Hesse's short story "Augustus," Chocolat is an utterly delicious novel, coated in the gentlest of magic, which proves--indisputably and without preaching--that soft centers are best. --Lisa Gee, Amazon.co.ukFrom the Inside Flap:
When the exotic stranger Vianne Rocher arrives in the old French village of Lansquenet and opens a chocolate boutique called ?La Celeste Praline? directly across the square from the church, Father Reynaud identifies her as a serious danger to his flock. It is the beginning of Lent: the traditional season of self-denial. The priest says she?ll be out of business by Easter.
To make matters worse, Vianne does not go to church and has a penchant for superstition. Like her mother, she can read Tarot cards. But she begins to win over customers with her smiles, her intuition for everyone?s favourites, and her delightful confections. Her shop provides a place, too, for secrets to be whispered, grievances aired. She begins to shake up the rigid morality of the community. Vianne?s plans for an Easter Chocolate Festival divide the whole community. Can the solemnity of the Church compare with the pagan passion of a chocolate éclair?
For the first time, here is a novel in which chocolate enjoys its true importance, emerging as an agent of transformation. Rich, clever, and mischievous, reminiscent of a folk tale or fable, this is a triumphant read with a memorable character at its heart.
Says Harris: ?You might see [Vianne] as an archetype or a mythical figure. I prefer to see her as the lone gunslinger who blows into the town, has a showdown with the man in the black hat, then moves on relentless. But on another level she is a perfectly real person with real insecurities and a very human desire for love and acceptance. Her qualities too ? kindness, love, tolerance ? are very human.? Vianne and her young daughter Anouk, come into town on Shrove Tuesday. ?Carnivals make us uneasy,? says Harris, ?because of what they represent: the residual memory of blood sacrifice (it is after all from the word "carne" that the term arises), of pagan celebration. And they represent a loss of inhibition; carnival time is a time at which almost anything is possible.?
The book became an international best-seller, and was optioned to film quickly. The Oscar-nominated movie, with its star-studded cast including Juliette Binoche ( The English Patient) and Judi Dench ( Shakespeare in Love), was directed by Lasse Hallstrom, whose previous film The Cider House Rules (based on a John Irving novel) also looks at issues of community and moral standards, though in a less lighthearted vein.
The idea for the book came from a comment her husband made one day while he was immersed in a football game on TV. ?It was a throwaway comment, designed to annoy and it did. It was along the lines of... Chocolate is to women what football is to men?? The idea stuck, and Harris began thinking that ?people have these conflicting feelings about chocolate, and that a lot of people who have very little else in common relate to chocolate in more or less the same kind of way. It became a kind of challenge to see exactly how much of a story I could get which was uniquely centred around chocolate.?
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