Anne's Reviews > Chocolat

Chocolat by Joanne Harris
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's review
Feb 05, 12

Read in February, 2012

I've read this book so many times, I don't even know how to go about reviewing it. One interesting thing I noticed this time around is that the book is in fact set in the 1990s--people watch TV and make microwave pizza, there are mentions of "the summer of '75," which couldn't possibly be 1875. It's easy to skip over details like that because the film version (which is also lovely) moves the story into the 1950s or '60s, possibly because in 2000 it was hard to believe that anybody living in the 1990s could be so backwards! But the cool thing for me is that I have spent quite a bit of time in small-town France now, and while I don't know how they really react to change, they look exactly the way I imagine Lansquenet-sous-Tannes to have looked, with the great church in its square, surrounded by little shops and houses. Even the tiniest towns (Lanouaille, one-street town with an apple museum on the one street) have beautiful churches--and quite often, a single, tiny chocolaterie.

I love that Chocolat has the guts to not be a love story (and while I love the movie, I'm not a fan of that particular development). Well, actually, I guess it is a love story, in a way, between Vianne and Lansquenet. There's a sequel, and I've read it, but I'd like to assume that Vianne and Anouk stayed in Lansquenet with Guillaume and Joséphine and Narcisse (my favorite! so sorry they cut him out of the movie!) and all of her other friends. I think a lot of the decisions they made for the film weaken the story considerably: changing Reynaud from a priest into the town's resident nobleman, making Caro Clairmont significantly more sympathetic, removing the magic. What's so wonderful about this book is that there really IS magic--it's not just culinary magic. But it's only enough to give Vianne special insight into the villagers' thoughts, and to see into the future a little. I was frustrated by the sequel Harris wrote, where not only did Roux and Vianne end up together (WRONG WRONG WRONG), but there was also a "bad witch" character. The magic was explicitly stated, whereas in Chocolat when Armande asks Vianne if she's a witch, Vianne thinks, "It's the wrong word." It's very subtle. Most of the magic of this book for me comes from the food, from the descriptions of the villagers' favorite candies, and the chocolate and the cakes (I'm living in France now and this book is proof to me that you can eat chocolate cake and drink hot chocolate every day and still look like Juliette Binoche...). Thanks to Chocolat, I knew what a mendiant was the first time I saw one in a Parisian chocolaterie.

It might not be the highest of high literature, but I can probably call this one of my formative books. I've read some of Harris' other novels, and they don't really measure up (Five Quarters of the Orange comes close, but that's because it's also about food!).

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