Saturday, March 17, 2012

Book Review: Chocolat

Author: Joanne Harris 
Title: Chocolat
Description: The wind blows Viane and her six year-old daughter, Anouk, to a small, backward French village on Mardi Gras. Unapologetically pagan, Viane opens a chocolate shop across the plaza from the church, firing the opening salvo of a war between her and the village priest for the loyalty of the villagers. His austerity contrasts with her indulgence of the senses; both recognize the other as a threat and vow to come out on top. The village is visited by gypsies, more traditional enemies of the church; meanwhile, Viane plans a chocolate festival for Easter.
Plot: The central conflict, between Viane and the priest, plays out in the lives of a young wife, an older widow, a schoolboy, a man who loves his dog, and others. The narration alternates between the points of view of the priest and Viane. Unfortunately, only one of them is not a caricature. The tired cliché of the Church as the enemy of everything good is getting a little old.
Characters: I enjoyed the characters in this book except for the character of the priest, who, as I mentioned, is such a caricature as to be completely contemptible. How can it be that in so much fiction/media everyone can have a few redeeming features except for those who ally themselves with the church (an adulterer, an arsonist, a wife-beater, etc.)?
Writing style:  Magic realism.
Audience: Literary fiction. It’s short, a quick and easy read. I’d be surprised if men loved this book.
Wrap-up: This is one of the very few books that I enjoyed even though I had already seen the movie. The book was different enough to make it a worthy read in spite of my knowing the basic bones of the story already. I’ve already mentioned my main problem with the book, the heavy-handed portrayal of organized religion. It’s funny, though, how I can really enjoy reading a book even when I disagree with its message. (Though those of you who know me know that I'm not always the world's biggest fan of organized religion either!) Can’t we all just get along? Reading experience: 4/5*. What the book seems to be about 2/5*.
There was a sequel published not too long ago about Viane's daughter. I'll pick it up sometime...

I had seen the movie before I read the book (you know if you read this blog that I don't like to do that). In this case, the book was different enough from the movie that they didn't spoil one another. 

I'm claiming this book for two reading challenges: the new author challenge (16/15) and the unread books challenge.  


  1. I've revised this a little due to a pretty cool Twitter conversation between me & Joanne Harris. I was getting a little worked up as I wrote this, and ascribed motives/intentions to the author, which I should know better than doing. So, my apologies; I like the book to stand on its own.

  2. Nice blog. As a lover of books you might be interested in the word play involved in cryptic crosswords. I am doing a series of posts on solving cryptic clues. This was the first one I did. Hope you enjoy.