I just loved this book. It’s not the type of book I would normally pick up but I had seen the movie…it had Johnny Depp so it was one of those ‘must see’ movies and in this case it followed that I had to read the book. There are differences between the book and movie, I think they stand on their own.
Vianne Rocher arrives in the French village of Lansquenet and opens a chocolate boutique directly opposite the church. Father Reynaud identifies her as a serious danger to his village. Vianne has skills with chocolate we can only dream of, Father Reynaud is fasting for Lent, they both have people skills but they exercise them in very different ways. Vianne tries to help the person, help them improve and get them out of any bad situation or to bring them together, Father Reynaud only wants to maintain the status quo. When Travellers come to stay for a while there is bound to be problems between the two of them.
The characters are beautifully drawn. I won’t say I fell in love with each of them but I did fall in love with the writing. Through his eyes, Father Reynaud is a very nasty person, always seeing the worst in people. His description of the Travellers boats is quite the opposite to Vianne’s. Father Reynaud lingers on the worst parts of their boats.
A wretched thing, green-painted but peeling miserably, a tin chimney spouting black and noxious fumes, a corrugated roof, like the roofs of the cardboard shacks on Marseille’s bidonvilles.
While Vianne looked at the tidiness of the area.
I was struck by the absence of litter, the care with which every scrap of waste had been placed in the steel drums for burning.
All of the characters are drawn with such care that even had I not seen the movie I would have been able to see them all in my minds eye perfectly. Harris’ language is very poetic and she has just the right amount of description…not too much and not too little. We are lead very carefully through many of the villager’s lives and shown just what the problems are, Vianne helps them resolve some of these problems. We see Father Reynaud feeling the resolutions Vianne provides as more problems and in order to help he makes his fasting for Lent more and more severe while he tries to ‘combat’ all of this from the pulpit.
Father Reynaud also had some problems with his childhood and we are given dribs and drabs of hints throughout the book as he talks to a man who is in a coma. We finally see who this man is and why he is talking to him, we eventually see what his problems were. Father Reynaud combines all of this with his current problems and make his fasting even more severe. I can’t help wondering how much of his antipathy for strangers is caused by the lack of food.
We are gently lead through Vianne’s childhood. Although she was greatly loved by her mother we see how they drifted through life, moved from place to place and country to country always on the move. There is one little hint as to why that might be and it opens up lots of questions.
I really can’t recommend this book enough. There are adult themes but they’re not in your face, as with the rest of the book they’re mostly fairly gently presented. I’d definitely recommend it for young adults.