The novel Chocolat by Joanne Harris is not quite what I had expected. It was actually quite a bit like what I remembered from the film- which was a very nice surprise. This also means I am even more impressed by the film at this current moment in time. While there are a few things which happen in the book the movie does not address or disclose, quite honestly, it was done in such a way integrity was maintained for each while obvious respect was given to the piece of literature.
This book is the story of a woman, some call her a witch, named Vianne Rocher and her impact upon a sleepy, fastidiously Catholic, staunchly traditional town called Lansquenet-sous-Tannes. Her arrival in the town of relatively small numbers of course does not go unnoticed and even seems to be rather looked upon with suspicion. Some members of the community want her gone immediately while others show a reluctant curiosity to the single woman with a daughter.
As the story opens Lent is upon the town and our dear heroine decides to open up a chocolate shop. As you can well imagine, this does not bode well for her in the eyes of many of the citizens especially the Cure`, Francis Reynaud. He is a very rigid individuality whom makes no allowances for the weakness of humanity- almost every instance he is greeted with it he shows himself to be pious, unforgiving and oft-times thinking of the confessor with derision. He does not, in many ways, deal with people in quite so insolent a manner but instead does what he can to manipulate them to do what is “right”. For one man it is to put a dog to sleep who is obviously dying anyway after all- why does it matter when animals don’t have souls? A man can beat his wife as long as it’s kept quiet and the abuser confesses. This man, the writing of him, is absolutely brilliant.
Too often in books are the villains left on the sideline- and this serves the story well in some instances- but here the villain is somewhat sympathetic in his insanity. Each chapter with his point of view edifies the reader to his compulsions, his self-deceptions and punishments as well as his very unsuspected vanity. He is everything we understand our heroine to fear, for reasons both from her past as well as her present. To her, this is not about religion nor about the personal fight the priest is assuming it to be, it is about confronting demons and staying in a place for longer than the wind blows “just so”.
The point of views are very convincing, in some places there were some issues with assuming too much about another person’s unspoken reasons for doing things but it did not act detract from the story- at all. Harris has a tremendous gift for language as is noted in this passage:
Still more of this interminable rain. It falls like a piece of the sky upended to pour misery onto the aquarium life below. The children, bright plastic ducks in their waterproofs and boots, squawk and waddle across the square, their cries ricocheting off the low clouds.
The story line, while it is ultimately about Vianne’s and Reynaud’s past and present, includes a great many secondary characters who add a richness to the tale. Roux- the easily perceived love interest (and might I just say if you HAVE seen the movie and you read this, imagining Johnny Depp everytime you read this part is certainly a bonus), Josephine Muscat- the sticky fingered abused wife, Armande- a catankerous, diabetic elderly woman with a penchant for chocolate are just a few whom are etched into your mind during the course of this 306p tale.
It is not the most brilliant piece of literature nor the most gut wrenching. It is, however, a memorable, heart warming tale which sweeps you away to the French countryside asking you to sit a spell and to do so with a steaming cup of hot chocolate spiced with something unusual and special.
**Book was borrowed from library.