Monday, February 22, 2010

Chocolat - Joanne Harris

The winter wind brings them to Lansquenet-sous-Tannes one cold February . Vianne Rocher, her little daughter Anouk and Anouk's imaginary rabbit friend Pantoufle.

Welcome to the wonderful, magical world of Chocolat, it will leave you reaching out, trying to grasp the magic that laces the book long after you have turned the last page. From the very first pages, conflicts are portrayed - internal conflicts, conflicts with outsiders, conflicts with the dead, conflicts with the sick, with fate, destiny...over beliefs. Lansquenet, a tiny blip on the French map is a village of little change, little magic, old traditions and prejudices, a little drab, a little colourless. Into this village of dreary routines, Vianne Rocher infuses scarlet, crimson and gold in the form of La Celeste Praline, her little chocolaterie.

Little by little, the villagers either take to Vianne or join the opposing group led by the priest, Francis Reynaud.

Father Reynaud, unsatisfied with the petty daily concerns of his little flock: Father Reynaud, who sets a path for himself but finds temptation right under his nostrils during the period of Lent. Is it just the chocolates or Vianne Rocher herself? We don't know. Fancis Reynaud carries dark secrets in his bosom and in his mad and blind devotion to what he calls "conventions of the church" shows a remarkable lack of empathy. Suddenly, ousting Vianne Rocher and her chocolates becomes his life's purpose.

Finally, there is Vianne herself. Vianne has spent her whole life running from The Black Man - priest, law, man, woman, conventions, customs, prejudices: anything that threatens to disrupt her life. Vianne has unresolved issues herself, she is not as self assured as she seems to be, she has grown up a certain way and has lived her life a certain way but what she ultimately wants is to stop running, to be accepted.

Chocolat is not just a book about the struggle between Vianne Rocher and Francis Reynaud or chocolate and the Church; the book brings out a million prejudices and notions, forces you into acceptance or rebellion. Joanne Harris has created a portrait of people whose inner most thoughts are retold in magical prose so that you feel as if you were a part of them. I will not call Chocolat a feel-good book. What Chocolat does, is tell you a story of how to let things be, let things go. Like it or hate it, you cannot ignore Chocolat once you have taken it up.

Go into La Celeste Praline, have a cup of hot chocolate and tell Vianne a little about yourself, you might even enjoy it.


Pavi said...

Hey this book sounds similar to The Tea House On Mulberry Street.Only difference being,i guess this one could be much more serious and not just about various relationships and their problems that had some connection to do with the tea house.But I really liked that book so should give this one a try:)btw is Anouk the only one who had an imaginary friend or the reader too ;-) lol :-p

bikerguy said...

very nicely written....
honestly the first time i got lost in the name of the characters :P but on second read, i loved the way you have described them all and fit them into this review..a neat job i must say.
the book may not be a feel-good one, but your post surely is...ending is superb!! :)

Vaishnavi said...

@Pavi - The reader did/does have an imaginary friend :) Yeah I guess it is a little similar to the Tea House on Mulberry Street, read it, you will like it :)

@Avi - Well, a lot of people would classsify it under the feel-good category, so it really depends on the reader. Thanks :)

Urbi Chatterjee said...

Dear Vaishnavidi,
I watched the movie Chocolat a month or so ago. My aunt had suggested it. As she had prophesied, I enjoyed the movie a lot, and watched it over and over quite a few times. In the first time, it only seemed to be a pleasant and mmm... oh-so-deliciously-chocolaty story, a nice one for relaxation. However, after watching it for the second and the third times, I realized it was also about the lifelong fights of the woman, Vianne against conventional society, and the friends she made, and the enemies too.

I haven't read the book, but from your review, it seems to be one worth reading. Thanks :)

Vaishnavi said...

Dear Urbi,

Hi! And welcome here! I am glad you liked my review :) Even I love the movie adaptation of Chocolat. The book has darker undertones but I think you will enjoy it nevertheless. Like you said, it gives great insight into Vianne's fight against "conventional" society :) Do visit again :)

Anonymous said...

Hey there!
Magic realism is not really my cup of tea... errr chocolate... but this book sure does sound interesting! Your review makes it sound charming! It makes me feel like I will enjoy going into the chocolaterie and have a friendly chat with the owner. :)