Chocolat is a novel about a young single mother, Vianne Rocher, who arrives in a tiny yet picturesque French village of Lansquenet on Tannes with her daughter Anouk and opens a chocolaterie just before Lent. In a village that has, till now, let a simple and strictly by-the-book life, mostly thanks to the village priest Francis Reynaud who believes himself to be the village’s moral and religious compass, this causes an uproar. Obviously, tensions run high and for a while, it feels that Vianne and Anouk are never going to find a home in this village with its lovely, compassionate, yet a little scared, residents. However, with a bit of faith, belief, magic and lots of chocolate (Vianne has a knack for guessing people’s favorite kind of chocolate), they don’t just make friends in Lansquenet but also find a home.
We came on the wind of the carnival. A warm wind for February, laden with the hot greasy scents of frying pancakes and sausages and powdery sweet waffles cooked on a hot plate right there by the roadside.
Chocolate and confectionery form a dominant thread on the canvass of this story. La Celeste Praline Chocolaterie Artisanale is not just any other chocolaterie. One is drawn to it as if, there is a magical pull that lures you under its bright awnings and beyond the bright geranium-lined windows.If you need another sample of how wonderful the images are that Harris conjures up in the course of the book, take a look at this.
And in the middle, she has built a magnificent centerpiece. A gingerbread house, walls of chocolate-coated pain d’epices with the detail piped on in silver and gold icing, roof tiles of Florentines studded with crystallized fruits, strange vines of icing and chocolate growing up on walls, marzipan birds singing in the chocolate trees…
So, one of the major criticisms of this book is that the priest is made out to look as a bit too harsh. The protagonist does not go to Sunday mass, promotes and celebrates Pagan worship and is sort of thought as being an evil influence over the rest of the village. There are also complaints if the book portraying Christianity in a bad light. While I am not knowledgeable enough to comment on the validity of the claim, I somehow felt that it was more about not sticking to the old ways kind of mentality against the belief of being open and accepting of diversity in thought and way of life. Monsieur Reynaud believes that an animal has no soul and wants a gentleman to put an end to an ailing dog’s misery while Vianne sympathizes with the gentleman’s choice and supports him in whatever decision he takes. She sympathizes with a kleptomaniac, who is also a victim of domestic abuse, and tries to find out the reason behind her tendencies and even supports her when she tries to make a fresh start with her life. So, to me, it felt that it was not so much about religion as it was about overcoming prejudices.
Overall, I ended up enjoying the book more than the movie, because the book’s narration is far more engaging than the movie.
- My Rating: 4 stars out 5
- Recommendation: If you enjoy magical realism, fairy tale sort of narratives and books with food-related themes, you will probably enjoy this. Otherwise, give this a skip.
- Title: Chocolat
- Author: Joanne Harris
- Genre: Fantasy, Magical Realism
- Average Rating on Goodreads: 3.94 stars out of 5
- Average Rating on Amazon: 4.5 stars out of 5
- Movie Adaptation: Chocolat starring Juliette Binoche, Victoire Thivisol, Johnny Depp and others
- Year of Publication: 1999