This book has been on my to-be-read shelf for so long it took quite a while to trace where and when I bought it! I apparently picked it up way back in October 2012 when I helped out at the Somerville Public Library book sale! I’m glad I grabbed a copy. I own a copy of the film, but for some reason I never realized they adapted it from a novel!
Add in that when random.org selected it as my next book and I prepared to read it I found out it was a trilogy, my mind was BLOWN! I was a little grumpy at first, because I had a plan worked out to read more of my to-be-read shelf and was trying really hard not to add more in between the books, but I do love a good trilogy! I plan to read two and three, The Girl With No Shadow and Peaches for Father Francis, in the next few weeks and am VERY excited about them!
I love how quick this novel moves. It takes place over such a short time, roughly six weeks from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Sunday, and so much happens in the little French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes that the reader can’t help but get caught up in the story. Two things immediately struck me about the novel as I read it: 1) it’s told from TWO perspectives unlike the film and 2) the film took out/glossed over the magic of the book.
This is from a vague recollection of the film, but from what I remember the main emphasis was on Vianne’s story, but Vianne and Father Francis alternate narration of the novel! It caught me off guard at first, because the only denotation between the two is a font change at the chapter title (which were sort of diary entries), but ultimately this worked really well and provided a fantastic juxtaposition of views throughout the story. One of the main things I noted is how even after Father Francis’ came around (apparently), his language was so haughty and talked down about his parishioners,
“I feel a sudden burst of love for them today, for my flock, my people. I want to feel their hands in mine, to touch their warm, stupid flesh, to revel in their awe and their trust.” (254)
But, he ultimately got his just comeuppance and provided an excellent ending for the film and this chapter of the novel!
As for the magic, the film did a disservice to the novel in leaving it out. In the novel magic was a primary source of friction/division between Vianne and Father Francis, even though Father Francis wasn’t completely aware it existed. It also served as a driving force in Vianne’s history and back story that is only hinted at in the novel. Unless I’m completely wrong in my memory, they don’t really explain why Vianne is so good at chocolate and how it stems from her mother’s own powers,
“This is an art I can enjoy. There is a kind of sorcery in all cooking: in the choosing of ingredients, the process of mixing, grating, melting, infusing, and flavoring, the recipes taken from ancient books, the traditional utensils—the pestle and mortar with which my mother made her incense turned to a more homely purpose, her spices and aromatics giving up their subtleties to a baser, more sensual magic. And it is partly the transience of it that delights me; so much loving preparation, so much art and experience, put into a pleasure that can last only a moment, and which only a few will ever fully appreciate.” (51)
Aside from these two things, Harris most impressed me with her writing about and dealing with death, from Vianne’s mother and Armande to Guillaume’s dog Charly. Harris wrote beautifully about death and even though it is a major “foe” in the novel she never wrote about it in a bad way, more of a next great adventure!
Recommendation: A definite read! As much as I love the film, the book brought so much more to life and had such vivid descriptions, detail sand scenes. I can’t wait to see if she carries this through the next few chapters of Vianne’s story in books two and three.
Opening Line: “We came on the wind of the carnival.”
Closing Line: “That this time—please, just this once—it will leave without us.” (Whited out.)
Additional Quotes from Chocolat
“The people of Lansquenet have learned the art of observation without eye contact. I feel their gaze like a breath on the nape of my neck, strangely without hostility but cold nevertheless. We are a curiosity to them, a part of the carnival, a whiff of the outlands.” (3)
“Divination is a means of telling ourselves what we already know. What we fear. There are no demons, but a collection of archetypes every civilization has in common. The fear of loss—Death. The fear of displacement—the Tower. The fear of transience—the Chariot.” (76)
“It is like one of my dreams. I roll in chocolates. I imagine myself in a field of chocolates, on a beach of chocolates, basking-rooting-gorging. I have no time to read the labels; I cram chocolates into my mouth at random. The pig loses his cleverness in the face of so much delight, becomes a pig again, and though something at the top of my mind screams at me to stop, I cannot help myself. Once begun, it cannot end.” (299)