Sunday, 16 February 2014

Book of the Week: Chocolat

"And now? What do I believe right now?
'I believe that being happy is the only important thing,' I told him at last.
Happiness. Simple as a glass of chocolate or torturous as the heart. Bitter. Sweet. Alive."

I read Chocolat by Joanne Harris almost a year ago now, and I still get a little nostalgic for its delicious descriptions and beautiful, warm simplicity. It tells the story of Vianne Rocher and her daughter, Anouk; nomads who settle in the quaint French village of Lansquenet, and open the most mouthwatering chocolate boutique you will ever read about.  Arriving at the beginning of Lent, she is greeted with whispers of disapproval from many of the village's church going citizens, including their priest, whose point of view intersperses Vianne's throughout the chapters of the tome. However, she soon makes lifelong friends, and her spirituality, along with her delightful confectionary, make quite an impression on the sleepy little town. So who will triumph? Church or chocolate? Well, I think we all know the answer to that! ;)  

To start, it is a book of beautiful and succinct observations. I adore the wonderful descriptions of   people, places and practices, going so far as to say that I would recommend the book purely for the poetic way in which Harris writes. Vianne spends a lot of time watching her new neighbours, picking up on all the quirks and nuances that make them interesting, and the tantalising way in which she paints a picture of the window displays, the alchemy of couverturing, and the delectable shop counters is enough to make you grab the nearest chocolate bar, just to curb the craving her words ignite.

Before very long, we learn that Vianne has a magical ancestry. This doesn't become a focal point in the story for me, it's just kind of an underlying, ever present fact, but this whimsical magicality adds a wonderful warmth to the book, transforming it from your standard story and leaving a faint trace of fairytale. I find it particularly endearing that Vianne uses her gifts, not to pry or meddle in the lives of her new acquaintances, but  simply to tell what their favourite chocolates are. There's something I find really sweet about the gesture (pun intended).

Another thing that struck me was the timelessness of the story. Little clues anchor it somewhat; the mention of a New York event here, the passing Nazi joke there, but really it could be set down in any decade of a timeline and still the story would remain exactly as it is. I'm not sure why, but for me, this adds to the sense of fairytale. Although Vianne is very well travelled, the village she is in now seems to stand alone, apart from the world beyond. Like a Disney movie, the anonymity of it all, for me, only adds to the magic.

Although I find all of the characters to be perfectly imperfect in their own unique ways, there is one that stands out in particular for me; Armande Voizin. At 80 years old, she's stubborn, opinionated and mischievous, and she really knows how to live. I love her independence and her fierce loyalty to those who treat her as equal, not just as a crazy old woman, and, odd as it sounds, I envy her view of death. Dying is not something I like to think about too often, but Armande's is actually quite a touching tale about the prospect of passing on. A diabetic with a love of chocolate, she would, quite admirably, rather enjoy the naughty little treats that life has to offer until her dying day, even if it means that day will arrive a little sooner. She puts it so well herself, arguing, "After a five-course banquet you'd want coffee and liqueurs, wouldn't you? You wouldn't suddenly decide to round it all off with a bowl of pap, would you? Just so you could have an extra course?" Again, I don't like to dwell on the notion, but I really think she has the right idea of it, and admire her brave determination to enjoy life until the (not so) bitter end. And enjoy it, she does! She sees in her 81st year with a luxurious banquet, no expense spared, in which they gorge themselves on luscious meals and fine wine. It is, quite simply, a literary feast for the senses, and one of my favourite passages in the novel.

Despite her outsider status, and her tendency to be filled with a little 'gypsy wanderlust', Vianne really finds her place among the people of Lansquenet, and I think that's what I so love about the tale. Unlike it's wonderful movie equivalent, the book is not a love story. It's a story of family and home. Of belonging and of friendship. And, of course, it is a story of the most wonderful thing of all - Chocolat.

Have you read this book? Seen the movie? Does it make you wish you owned a chocolate shop as much as it does me? Let me know!


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  1. I haven't read Chocolat but I really like how you describe it :)
    I hope you've had a great weekend!

    1. Thank you :) You should read it, it's wonderful!
      Thanks sweetie, you too! xx

  2. I'm pretty sure I saw the film a few years ago, I don't remember much of it but I do remember the immense amount of chocolate!

    Yet Another Makeup Blog.

    1. There is an awful lot of chocolate in it - that's what makes it so good! :) xx

  3. Sounds like I need to read this, lovely review!


  4. I've had this book on my shelf for a few years now and I've never finished it! Your review is spot on though, this book it beautifully written (well, the parts that I've read) and there is definitely something magical about it. I'm not very good at finishing books, the story is wonderful so i'm not sure why but I think i'll give this book another go. x

    1. Aww you should! It's such a lovely book, and I think it's quite an easy one to read too! xx

  5. I remember seeing the book years ago but it didn't read it - then stumbled across the movie and my oh my it was one of those lovely stories with a dreamy, magical quality and ever since then I've been dying to read the book! Your review was beautiful and made me want to read the book even more! :)