When beautiful, unmarried Vianne Rocher sweeps into the pinched little French town of Lansquenet on the heels of the carnival and opens a gem of a chocolate shop across the square from the church, she begins to wreak havoc with the town’s Lenten vows. Her uncanny ability to perceive her customers’ private discontents and alleviate them with just the right confection coaxes the villagers to abandon themselves to temptation and happiness, but enrages Pére Reynaud, the local priest. Certain only a witch could stir such sinful indulgence and devise such clever cures, Reynaud pits himself against Vianne and vows to block the chocolate festival she plans for Easter Sunday, and to run her out of town forever. Witch or not (she’ll never tell), Vianne soon sparks a dramatic confrontation between those who prefer the cold comforts of the church and those who revel in their newly discovered taste for pleasure.
A mother and daughter move to a small French village. Besides being clear outsiders, they cause trouble when they open a chocolatrie just in time for Lent. Worse, the people of the village are breaking their fast to eat the sinful chocolate. This enrages the village priest, who becomes set on driving the two out. Vianne influences some of the villagers to take a stand for what they want and need.
I love Joanne Harris’ Chocolat. I love the movie adaptation, and when I learned the film is an adaptation, I had to read it. The novel is lovely with the vocabulary, magic and imagery. Vianne’s observations of village life is true to villages and small towns in my opinion. Vianne tells her daughter, who would also like to stay in one place, that if they are to stay, they must fully conform, but even then, the residents won’t forget they’re not truly from Lansquenet.
The novel is written in two perspectives: Vianne Rocher’s and Reynaud Francis’. It isn’t predictable when Vianne’s or Reynaud’s perspectives will come up. Each perspective is kept to its own chapter. I liked that the font changed to help denote when the perspective changes. It’s not a drastic font change like it is in some novels, but it is noticeable. It’s similar to comparing Times New Roman with Georgia or Arial with Calibri.
Most of the characters develop over the course of the novel. Besides the priest and Vianne, other characters who developed are Madame Voizin, Josephine, Luc and Anouk. I love seeing Josephine and Luc grow backbones. And I like the incorporation of the river gypsies to show both a comparison and a contrast of Vianne’s welcome into the village.
The imagery is beautiful. It not only lends to vivid images, but also to show the characters’ thoughts. The priest changes his perspective from the chocolate just being a nuisance temptation to a sinful food to a food he desires, showing his own fall and breakdown. The vocabulary also lends itself to better describe and show where the river gypsies have been. One of the women wore a dirndl to a party. Another decorated her body and her baby’s with henna tattoos.
I believe part of the magic of this book is the blurred line between contemporary and history. As I read this, I was never entirely sure what time period it is set in.
My only complaint with the novel is that there is no glossary for the French words and phrases. The wind song that Vianne and Anouk sing is only in French, so I wish I could see an English translation. Otherwise, the French could be figured out through context.
One theme of is that not only is it okay to be different but that it is also important to see that difference is not inherently evil. Another theme, as shown with Armande’s daily struggles, is that we should live, not constantly worrying–and in the process suffering–about the possibility of getting hurt or dying. A third theme is that some who find themselves in a position of power like to feel superior, even if it means hiding the truth of their pasts.
I recommend Chocolat to people who have relocated, who like chick lit and who have a love of magic.
Genres: Women’s Fiction, Historical, Magical Realism, Romance
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars