Chocolat (novel)

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Chocolat
JoanneHarris Chocolat.jpg
First edition cover
Author Joanne Harris
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Novel
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date
4 March 1999
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 394 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBN ISBN 0-385-41064-6 (first edition, hardback)
OCLC 40881895
Followed by The Lollipop Shoes

Chocolat is a 1999 novel by Joanne Harris. It tells the story of Vianne Rocher, a young single mother, who arrives in the French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes at the beginning of Lent with her six-year-old daughter, Anouk. Vianne opens a chocolate shop, La Céleste Praline, right opposite the village church, and throughout the traditional season of fasting and self-denial, proceeds to gently change the lives of the villagers who visit her chocolaterie with a combination of sympathy, subversion and a little magic.

This scandalizes the parish priest, Francis Reynaud, and his supporters. As tensions run high, the community is increasingly divided. And as Easter approaches, pitting the ritual of the Church against the indulgence of chocolate, Father Reynaud and Vianne Rocher face an inevitable showdown.

Harris has indicated that several of the book's characters were influenced by individuals in her life:[1] Her daughter forms the basis for the young Anouk, including her imaginary rabbit, Pantoufle. Harris' strong-willed and independent great-grandmother influenced her portrayal of both Vianne and the elderly Armande.

A sequel to the novel, The Lollipop Shoes, was released in the UK in 2007; under the title The Girl with No Shadow, it was released in the US in 2008.[2] In 2012, a third chapter in Vianne's story was published, entitled Peaches for Monsieur le Curé (Peaches for Father Francis in the US).

Plot summary[edit]

The story begins as two strangers, Vianne Rocher and her small daughter Anouk, move into the small French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes. They are brought by "the wind" during the last days of Carnival, and they settle and open a chocolaterie, La Céleste Praline. The village priest, Francis Reynaud, is initially mystified, because Lent has just begun, but his confusion turns rapidly to anger when he understands that Vianne holds dangerous beliefs, does not obey the church and "flouts" the unspoken rules that he feels should govern his "flock".

Vianne, we learn from her personal thoughts, is a witch, though she does not use the word. Her mother and she were wanderers, going from one city to another. Her mother strove to inspire the same need for freedom in her daughter, who is more social and passive. They were born with gifts, and used a kind of "domestic magic" to earn their living. Throughout her life, Vianne has been running from the "Black Man", a recurring motif in her mother's folklore. When her mother is killed by a cab, Vianne continues on her own, trying to evade the Black Man and the mysterious force of the wind and settle down to a normal life.

The chocolaterie is an old dream of hers. She has an innate talent for cooking and a charming personality. She tries to fit in and help her customers. She starts to build a group of regular customers, and, to Reynaud's dismay, she doesn't go out of business.

Reynaud attempts to have Vianne run out of town, and he talks about her every Sunday at church. Some people initially stay away, but not for long. His conflict with her becomes his personal crusade. Vianne, however, announces a "Grand Festival of Chocolate", to be held on Easter Sunday.

Characters[edit]

  • Vianne Rocher, single mother of Anouk, blows in to the small village of Lasquennet-sous-les-Tannes and opens a chocolaterie at the beginning of Lent. She is described as taller than the average woman, with black curly hair, "dark eyes that seem pupilless", straight brows that would make her face stern if not for the amused quirk of her mouth, a little too big. Her favourite scent is mimosa. She loves Anouk very much, and her greatest fear is that they will be torn apart. She has a friendly, charming personality, but stubborn too, and she stands up for her beliefs, in a mild yet firm manner. She also has a keen sense of people and great powers of intuition.
  • Francis Reynaud is the antagonist in this book. He tries to make Vianne and her daughter leave as he initially believes her shop inappropriate during Lent, but he later comes to believe that she is Satan's helper. He is fanatical and puritanical in his beliefs, due to the inspiration of Père Michel, his predecessor as the town priest, and of his troubled childhood. He has a strong sense of dignity, which might be mistaken for pride sometimes, an obsession with following the rules and believes himself superior in terms of moral strength and intellect as he observes with chagrined disdain in one of his confessions.
  • Anouk Rocher, daughter of the protagonist Vianne. She is precocious child, who often plays with her imaginary friend, a rabbit called Pantoufle.
  • Josephine Muscat is the wife of Paul-Marie Muscat. At the beginning of the book she is a silent fearful figure, the result of the incessant brutal treatment received at the hand of her husband. She starts to hope after Vianne offers her friendship, and finally she leaves her husband. Vianne offers her a job and residence at her chocolaterie, arguing that if she leaves the town, she'll never stop running. Under her guidance, Josephine transforms, becoming stronger, more self-confident and charming.
  • Paul-Marie Muscat married to Josephine, using her as his servant. He beats her often and he drinks too much. Under his father's guidance he developed a cruel personality that, coupled with his need for vengeance, made him incinerate Roux's boat.
  • Armande Voizin, the mother of Caroline Clairmont, is a witch, by her own account, and she is the first to anticipate the changes Vianne's arrival would bring. She believes Vianne is also a witch, though Vianne doesn't agree with the word. They become friends, due to a similarity in personalities and the freedom of spirit they both share. Vianne helps Armande reconnect with her grandson, Luc, and Armande helps Vianne after one of Reynaud's strong sermons. She has a secret love of underwear and the poetry of Rimbaud. It is revealed that when she was a very good climber, she would often throw things at passers-by from the trees. She has a strong disdain for Reynaud and some of the villagers that follow him blindly, who she calls 'bible groupies'.
  • Caroline Clairmont is one of the aforementioned 'bible groupies' and doesn't have a good relationship with her mother, the result of which was banning Luc from ever seeing his grandmother again. She is superficial and spiteful, and she fusses too much over Armande, a fact which the latter hates. She's quick to point out everyone else's mistakes but not her own and rarely does anything without expecting something in return.
  • Luc Clairmont is Caroline Clairmont's son, whom she raised with obsessive care. Luc has a penchant for the dark and bizarre which he's been hiding for fear of upsetting his mother.
  • Guillaume An elderly gentleman, devoted to his sick dog, Charly.
  • Narcisse A local farmer and florist, who delights in giving work to the river-gypsies in the face of Reynaud's disapproval.
  • Roux is the nickname of the red-haired river-gypsy, who, along with others, docks near Lansquenet, to the chagrin of Reynaud and other villagers. As a sort of 'ambassador' of the 'river-people' he gets to know Armande, and then Vianne and Anouk, whom he takes to immediately. He has a strong sense of independence and is not one to trust easily, but would go to great lengths for people he cares about.
  • Zezette & Blanche are gypsies.

Reception[edit]

Charles de Lint praised the novel, saying "Harris's prose is an absolute delight." He compared Chocolat to Like Water for Chocolate "but with a European rather than a Latin flavor."[3] The New York Times called it "[a]n amazement of riches."[1]

It won the Creative Freedom Award (2000) and the Whittaker Gold and Platinum Awards (2001, 2012). It was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize and the Scripter Award (2001).

Setting[edit]

The village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes is a fictional village in the Gers region of South-Western France, featured in the novels of Joanne Harris. Situated on the (imaginary) river Tannes, a tributary of the Garonne, it is described as "a blip on the fast road between Toulouse and Bordeaux". A small rural community of only a few hundred people, it is the setting of the novel Chocolat as well as Harris' later novels, Blackberry Wine and Peaches for Monsieur le Curé.

In the Miramax movie adaptation of Chocolat, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, most of the Lansquenet scenes were shot in Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, a village in the Côte-d'Or region. However, there seems to be evidence to suggest that the original village was based on the town of Nérac, on the river Baïse, where Harris spent some of her childhood holidays, and which is very close to a tiny village called Vianne (also the first name of Vianne Rocher, protagonist of the Chocolat books).

The name of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes is ambiguous. The word "lansquenet" refers to an old card game. "Sous Tannes", or "under the Tannes" is also phonetically identical to the French word "soutane", a priest's cassock. This may be a reference to the traditionalist, Catholic nature of the community depicted in the Chocolat books.

In Chocolat, Lansquenet is portrayed as an insular, close community, run by gossip and the Church. Most of the inhabitants are elderly; young people have mostly moved to the towns and cities to find work. It is an old bastide and retains the fortress mentality of its past. Outsiders are not welcome; old grudges linger; the inhabitants of neighbouring villages are seen as traditional enemies. The arrival of Vianne Rocher in the novel Chocolat - an unmarried mother who does not attend church - causes a minor scandal. Similarly in Peaches for Monsieur le Curé, the presence of a community of Moroccan immigrants, with their new customs and different religious beliefs, causes friction.

In spite of all this, Lansquenet has acquired a significant following among Harris' readers. In a piece written for the Telegraph in July 2012 [2], she describes her own affection for Lansquenet, as well as that of her readers, many of whom have written to her to say that they have found the place, and therefore know that it exists.

Film adaptation[edit]

Main article: Chocolat (2000 film)

The film adaption was released in 2000, directed by Lasse Hallström and starring Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin and Johnny Depp. It was nominated for 8 BAFTAS and 5 Oscars.

Release details[edit]

  • 1999, UK, Doubleday (ISBN 0-385-41064-6), Pub date 4 March 1999, hardback (First edition)
  • 2000, UK, Black Swan (ISBN 0-552-99848-6), Pub date 2 March 2000, paperback
  • 1999, USA, Viking Adult (ISBN 0-670-88179-1), Pub date February 1999, hardback
  • 2000, USA, Penguin Books (ISBN 0-14-028203-3), Pub date January 2000, paperback
  • 2000, USA, Penguin Books (ISBN 0-14-100018-X), Pub date November 2000, paperback (film tie-in edition)
  • 2000, Australia, Black Swan (ISN 0-552-99893-1), Pub date 2000, paperback (film tie-in edition)

Sequel[edit]

Main article: The Lollipop Shoes

A sequel to Chocolat, entitled The Lollipop Shoes (retitled The Girl With No Shadow in the US), was published in 2007. A further chapter in Vianne's story, Peaches for Monsieur le Curé (Peaches for Father Francis in the US) followed in 2012.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "About the Book". Joanne Harris Website. Retrieved 2007-06-09.  Contains comments by the author.
  2. ^ The Girl with No Shadow by Joanne Harris
  3. ^ Books to Look For, F&SF, October/November 1999

Telegraph article

External links[edit]