Friday, March 21, 2014

Chocolat by Joanne Harris | Book Review

(There have been soooo many editions of this book published.  This is the cover of the book I read, on loan from my sister-in-love.)

I truly, truly enjoyed this book!  On Goodreads I gave it 4 of 5 stars.  That's a good thing!  It was a great book and I loved my time in it... I'm just not going to go whack people over the head with it and tell them that they HAVE to read it.    I wanted to recommend it to my mom but then I maybe not.  And I want to see the movie, but guess what?  Neither my library nor Netflix has it!  I'll ask the sister-in-love; she loved the book and lent it to me so maybe she also has the movie.  But I digress.

Chocolat opens on Ash Wednesday in a tiny French town.  Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk have just arrived and they get to town just in time to see the Fat Tuesday parade and Anouk, being a small child who is fascinated by things such as a parade, begs her mother to let them stay in town.  So they do.  Vianne Rocher signs a lease on a bakery that has been closed for quite awhile with an apartment above.  The mother-daughter pair move in that same evening and begin scrubbing and renovating.  I love the author's imagery.  While they are in the scrubbing & renovating phase, Vianne has the big front window of the shop covered in bright orange plastic, "like a bon bon waiting to be unwrapped and savored."  Which is definitely some kind of foreshadowing:  Vianne has transformed the old bakery into a chocolaterie!  When she finally unveils the front window display the villagers are greeted with an enormous chocolate gingerbread house.  Vianne has also installed a counter space and a few stools so that customers can sit and enjoy a chocolate croissant or a glass of hot chocolate there in the store.  Right away she builds up a contingent of "regulars" who come by the shop to enjoy some chocolate and talk about life.  And I just love them all.  So everything's going well on that front.  Successful shop in a cute little town with very interesting villager characters.

BUT *cue ominous music* there's a village priest, and he is not happy to have Vianne in his quaint little town.  Not at all.  I mean, right off the bat he's flustered and up in arms because she's a single lady with a child... no wedding band, no Mr. in sight.  Scandalous.  (This isn't a historical fiction piece.  It's totally not unheard of for people to be divorced.  Or to have a child and have never been married.)  Then she opens a chocolate shop.  During Lent.  Oh, the horror.  Next thing we know, she's made friends with an old lady who lives by the river and who is a self-proclaimed witch.  Quick, cover the children's ears... Vianne is making friends!  So the Father has it out for Vianne.  He has to be very sneaky about his subversion though, because he's a priest and all.  It'd be sinful for him to be blatant in hating the poor woman.  So he preaches sermon after sermon about sacrifice during Lent.  And about the sin of sex outside of marriage.  Etc.  Vianne and the rest of the village aren't stupid; they totally pick up on what he's doing.

Here's something about this book that I love: Vianne doesn't fight fire with fire.  She continues to smile and greet the priest in a friendly way.  She continues to love on the villagers.  She continues to help bring the community together.  She continues to show kindness even to strangers to model the right behavior.  She even gives the priest a box of chocolates!  He's getting all worked up and she's just chilling and smiling.  And here's where the summary must stop, because I don't want to give away the book.

Ya'll, the writing in this book is so excellent.  The author packs a lot of punch into her sentences.  It's a relatively short book (it's an adult book, not YA) but it still goes deep.  There's tons of character development and setting.  I really felt like I knew Vianne and most of the villagers; I felt like I could stand in the village's main square and point out the different shops and apartments and who belonged where.  And I really liked nearly all of the characters.

I only had two small beefs with the book, and one might be completely my fault and not the author's.  First, I didn't "get" the interlude chapters where the priest is talking.  He's talking to somebody, and we get the feeling (or maybe we're told outright; I can't remember) that the person is very elderly and in a coma.  But we don't find out who this person is and what their connection is to Father Reynaud.  This is the one that might be my fault.  Maybe I missed a key paragraph.  The other small beef is the very blatant "Catholic Church bad; "spiritual" woman good."  :/  But I don't really know how Ms. Harris could've avoided it.  Its just that if the book weren't quite so in favor of mysticism over Catholicism, I could recommend this lovely little novel to my mom; but I really don't think she'd enjoy the blatant anti-Catholicism.  Oh well.  I've never had any problem separating fiction from set religious texts, so I totally enjoyed the story; I just know that there's people out there who might not be able to.

So... I'm giving this book 4 of 5 stars.  And I'll keep this in my back pocket as a "comfort read" because it was.  It was cozy and lovely and the language was great and the writing was great and it made me want to eat all the chocolates!  I'm also going to try to get the sequel soon.

(Cozy and yummy like hot chocolate!)

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