by Joanne Harris
Chocolat is a beautifully written story about how a single kink in a chain can shake the whole machine. Vianne Rocher is a beautiful woman with a nomadic past who decides that it is finally time to settle down with her daughter in a small village in the French countryside. Most of the villagers greet her warmly, however a few choice members of the village, including the local priest, object to her presence, as well as the chocolate shop that she has opened across the square from the church. The book enters in the midst of a Mardi Gras festival and takes place through to Easter, highlighting the struggle between Vianne’s secular life style and the strong influence of the church over the village. Through out the story Vianne changes several of the villager’s lives, every one for the better, even if they’re not aware of it. The moral of Chocolat, deep down, is how we each affect each other, even if it is in the slightest.
Joanne Harris’ prose is beautiful and whimsical. The characters are written with such care and detail that it’s hard not to feel for them by the last page. Even Caro, Muscat, and Francis, who are presented as villains are, in truth, just wounded people, trying to make the best of their miseries. The book is written in journal format and switches between Vianne and Francis’ narration of events. I love that Harris doesn’t tell one event through both eyes, but instead tells it from one and continues the story with the other. My only gripe with the book, and it’s only one, is that the narration continually jumps from past to present tense. It’s a pet peeve of mine, so it might not bother anyone else. Plus one could probably argue its existence with the excuse of the journal format. It’s just something that I noticed and had a hard time getting used to, but it doesn’t deter from the story at all (in case you share in my nit-picky pet peeve).
Little known fact (even amongst those in my day to day life), I have a weak spot for canal/river boats. I’ve always loved the idea of living in one and traveling the canals of Europe and the UK. I just think it would be lovely. So all the descriptions of the river people with their boats and parties really captured my heart ablaze for a world I yearn to inhabit. On that note, all of the talk of a nomadic life style, tarot cards, visions in fire, the winds changing, it all caught that nomadic part of my heart on fire and made me ready yet again to take to the road.
In the end, Chocolat is a wonderful story that I would recommend to everyone looking for a timeless story written with beautiful prose, that will captivate your imagination and wanderlust.
By the way, I plan on reviewing the film adaptation, however, I am going away for a few days with my family for Spring Break, and most likely won’t have time to sit down and watch it until sometime next weekend. Also, my aunt has lent me the sequel to Chocolat, The Girl With No Shadow, which I will be starting on our trip (we’ll have lots of driving time, so hopefully I will get through a good amount).