Try me... Test me... Taste me...
When an exotic stranger, Vianne Rocher, arrives in the French village of Lansquenet and opens a chocolate boutique directly opposite the church, Father Reynaud denounces her as a serious danger to his flock - especially as it is the beginning of Lent, the traditional season of self-denial. War is declared as the priest denounces the newcomer's wares as the ultimate sin.
Suddenly Vianne's shop-cum-café means that there is somewhere for secrets to be whispered, grievances to be aired, dreams to be tested. But Vianne's plans for an Easter Chocolate Festival divide the whole community in a conflict that escalates into a 'Church not Chocolate' battle. As mouths water in anticipation, can the solemnity of the Church compare with the pagan passion of a chocolate éclair?
For the first time here is a novel in which chocolate enjoys its true importance. Rich, clever and mischievous, Chocolat is a literary feast for all senses.
There are two types of bibliophiles in the world — those that own books and those that borrow books from libraries. One isn’t better than another (other than at moving time — when you have to find sufficient enough people to move all those books). They will cross over at times — but their preferences remain pretty constant. I am a book owner. I just love a room filled with books — with a comfy chair in a corner — inviting one to grab the nearest adventure and launch into a great read. So, when I happened to venture into my local library and saw this book, I simply couldn’t pass it up. In the case of this book — it was the title. In my universe, there is just no passing up anything that has the word chocolate in it — I don’t care what language it is in! So, when I went into my local library and saw this sitting on a display table, I didn’t even think about it. I grabbed it with no other consideration. Frequently, when I do an impulse grab on my way in or out of libraries or bookstores, it is usually indicative of I will either love the book or hate it — but there is almost no in between ground. In the case of this one — I loved it. (For the most part).
While I am usually a character and setting person — for this book, it was the story that captivated me. There was something magical, in a very subtle way that kept me engrossed from beginning to end. I think it was the quality of the mystery that Harris was able to maintain, in relation to the characters’ motivations, as well as their interactions. Vianne and her precocious daughter are simply enthralling due to the mystery that surrounds them. There is obviously a back story that is always alluded to — which keeps the reader wanting to read more. But it is Harris’ ability to use that sense of mystery in building the story that is the most magical part. The small French village that gets caught up in a new comers world, while falling under her spell of inexplicable power to influence others in positive and beautiful ways. This is a story that revolves around the power of one person to influence others — drawing on her own past suffering and pain, to help others rise above their own. The story is a feel good read that expands the reader’s appreciation for the ability of people to make the world a better place.
There is a portion of this book that deals with some degree of commentary on the role of religion — or rather the local church’s parsonage. But it is not so much a religious/inspirational book, as it is an exploration of the ability of one person to change a whole community. The church actually takes on the role of antagonist through the form of the pastor — Father Reynaud. This is a character that in his own right, is struggling with a haunting past — which defines who he is and what kind of pastor he has become. He is an exacting shepherd that demands a great deal from his congregation. He is also a character that I truly loved to hate! But it is interesting how Harris was able to actually make the antagonist not so much a sympathetic character, as a weak one that struggles with his own insecurities. Shaped at the hands of a very exacting and demanding father, his boyhood is transferred to his congregation. This, of course, opens the door to all the different types of personalities that are present in all churches — and how they come together to form a sometimes precarious community.
Harris does an excellent job of balancing the constantly shifting sides of power and influence of this small community — while giving the reader an appreciation for small French village idiosyncrasies. This is a careful balance that is challenging for not only the community — but the writer’s ability to realistically portray the various aspects that go into making up a community. It reflects on how those aspects interact to strengthen, destabilize, undermine and enhance the entire story. Through this balancing act — Harris demonstrates a real gift for writing. She is truly gifted in her use of language, using it to create a world that the reader not only enjoys entering — but looks forward to revisiting on a regular basis.