by Joanne Harris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Chocolat / 0-141-00018-X
"Chocolat" is easily one of my favorite novels - the escapism is fantastic, the food descriptions are mouth-watering, the plot and prose are beautiful. I can hardly believe that a novel so richly packed with meaning could be so relatively short and such a quick read. Harris' prose here is at its finest, as we follow the narratives of Vianne the free-spirited chocolate-creating witch, and Reynaud the guilt-stricken oppressive village priest.
Each narrative is uniquely told, with personality quirks inherent to each, and each narrative can be subtly imperfect. Reynaud's precise narrative slowly descends into madness; while Vianne's vibrant narrative is gently laden with a fear of displacement - she doubts herself, her lover, and tries to balance her own wanderlust with her longing to belong to a community. The narrative is as delicate and bitter-sweet as Vianne's chocolates, with possibilities abounding on either side.
This is a novel of acceptance and love. Vianne is a single mother whose goal in life is "to be happy" without hurting anyone else. Many villagers are held up as examples of warm Christians and non-believers alike who gather around Vianne in kindness and acceptance. As the men and women of the village come together to support their local chocolate shop, their eyes are also opened to other forms of abuse in their community, and they learn to embrace the most vulnerable members of society and make a strong statement against those who would be abusers in their midst. Harris insists that the members of this community all deserve love and kindness and friendship, and differences mean so much less than the similarities - there's no reason that Vianne, a young and vibrant witch, cannot be close friends with Guillaume, an elderly and stately Christian, because their friendship is based on respect and humanity.
I highly recommend this book for anyone - this is a book that spans gender, religion, age, and country. Do note, though, that "Chocolat" is best enjoyed with a tall glass of milk and dark chocolate truffles near at hand!
~ Ana Mardoll
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