Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Book Review: Chocolat by Joanne Harris


Book Review: Chocolat by Joanne Harris

My thoughts about Chocolat by Joanne Harris

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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.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris
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.”

Rich with metaphor and gorgeous writing... sit back and gorge yourself on Chocolat. 

Some quotes I liked:

“Life is what you celebrate. All of it. Even its end.”

“The process of giving is without limits.”

“I envy the table its scars, the scorch marks caused by the hot bread tins. I envy its calm sense of time, and I wish I could say: I did this five years ago. I made this mark, this ring caused by a wet coffee cup, this cigarette burn, this ladder of cuts against the wood’s coarse grain. This is where Anouk carved her initials, the year she was six years old, this secret place behind the table leg. I did this on a warm day seven summers ago with the carving knife. Do you remember? Do you remember the summer the river ran dry? Do you remember? I envy the table’s calm sense of place. It has been here a long time. It belongs.”


“Happiness. Simple as a glass of chocolate or tortuous as the heart. Bitter. Sweet. Alive.”

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Write comments
  1. This is one of those books, and also one of those movies, that I’ve seen around a number of times over the years and haven’t gotten to yet.

    1. I plan on watching the film soon to see how it compares to the book. I remember it getting some hype when it first came out.

      This book has been on my shelf for years and I've only just gotten around to reading it. Glad I did though. I've also recently discovered that it's the first book in a series. Might check out the others now too.

  2. I loved the movie, looks like I'd love he book even more - thanx for sharing your thoughts

    1. I haven't seen the film yet, but I do plan on watching it soon. I'm curious to see how it compares to how I've pictured it in my head whilst reading the book.

  3. I loved Chocolat which I read many, many years ago. I do have the other books in the series but I never got far into The Lollipop Shoes before I had to give up (due to my dad dying) and I never returned to it. Hopefully one day.

    1. Sorry for your loss ❤️

      Do the other books in the series have the same characters as Chocolat? I didn't realise until recently that it was a series.

  4. a book (and movie) on my to-do list for a loooong while now

    1. I'm glad I'm not the only one that has waited so long to read it. I've had it sat on my book shelf for years. Glad I finally got around to reading it. Now to watch the film...


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