Chocolat by Joanne Harris

One February day, Vianne Rocher finds herself with her 6 year old daughter Anouk, in Lansquenet, a small French village.  Having lived in many places and never having settled, Vianne decides to stay.  She opens a chocolaterie opposite the local Catholic Church, and in doing so, encounters the disapproval of the Priest, Reynaud.

Reynaud – a cold man, who suffers with his own guilt and anger – believes that the chocolate which Vianne sells is encouraging his ‘flock’ to indulge in excess and sin.  He watches with dismay as the townspeople start to come to Vianne’s shop, drawn in by her almost instinctive understanding of their lives and thoughts.

When a group of river gypsies, led by the enigmatic Roux come to Lansquenet, Reynaud is further distressed as Vianne’s acceptance of them leads to the other people also accepting them.  She helps people discover their inner strength – aiding a woman to escape her abusive woman and comforting a man who has to face the truth about his beloved pet’s illness.

As Reynaud tries to think of a way to stop his flock abandoning him for the pleasures of Vianne’s creations, events come to a climax at Easter time.

 

I really enjoyed this book.  Quite apart from anything else, the descriptions of the chocolates are mouth watering, and made me hungry!

Vianne is an interesting character, and throughout the entire book, I cheered along with her small victories.  Reynaud is deliberately without charisma or warmth.  He is not a nice man, and neither is supposed to be.  However, he is portrayed with just enough sympathy to make him a believable ‘villain’ of sorts.

There are several other characters, all of whom play their own part in the book…Armande Voizin, Vianne’s friend; Josephine Muscat, an outcast in who Vianne sees something with even Josephine is not aware she possesses; and Roux, the tough but fair leader of the gypsies.  Each and every character in the book is distinctive and realistic.  

This is an ideal book to curl up with on a lazy afternoon (with a big mug of hot chocolate)!  I will certainly be seeking out the sequel.

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