Review: “Chocolat” by Joanne Harris

Thumbs up for Chocolat by Joanne Harris. Literature.

A sensualist wanderer and her daughter open a chocolate shop in a small French village. Good magical realism is hard to find, but Chocolat is a perfect truffle. Vianne Rocher is a witch – maybe. And the “maybe” is why it’s so lovely. Celeste Bradley once compared my novella The Portrait of Géraldine Germaine to Chocolat, so whyever did it take me so long to read it? I was missing out! Perhaps I initially avoided it because I am tired of the Church-as-villain trope, but as I discovered, Chocolat is better than that; Father Francis Reynaud is a well-developed character and his believable internal struggles are what make him the antagonist. I enjoyed his point-of-view chapters just as much as Vianne’s. Don’t miss out like I did, but enjoy every word of this delicious book.

We lit a candle for every room, gold and red and white and orange. I prefer to make my own incense, but in a crisis the bought sticks are good enough for our purposes, lavender and cedar and lemongrass. We each held a candle, Anouk blowing her toy trumpet and I rattling a metal spoon in an old saucepan, and for ten minutes we stamped around every room, shouting and singing at the top of our voices – Out! Out! Out! – until the walls shook and the outraged ghosts fled, leaving in their wake a faint scent of scorching and a good deal of fallen plaster. Look behind the cracked and blackened paintwork, behind the sadness of things abandoned, and begin to see faint outlines, like the after-image of a sparkler held in the hand – here a wall adazzle with golden paint, there an armchair, a little shabby, but coloured a triumphant orange, the old awning suddenly glowing as half-hidden colours slide out from beneath the layers of grime. iAnouk and Pantoufle stamped and sang and the faint images seemed to grow brighter – a red stool beside the vinyl counter, a string of bells against the front door. Of course, I know it’s only a game. Glamours to comfort a frightened child. There’ll have to be work done, hard work, before any of this becomes real. And yet for the moment it is enough to know that the house welcomes us, as we welcome in. Rock salt and bread by the doorstep to placate any resident gods. Sandalwood on our pillow, to sweeten our dreams.


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