I’ve not left you all, I’ve just had a crazy start back at work. My summer feels like a distant memory. But, my apologies for leaving you all, temporarily. I knew the start of school would hit me like a brick in the face, so I wanted to read something that made me feel cosy and warm inside. Hence: Chocolat. I just love it.
What’s it all about?
Set in Lansquenet, France, nothing seems to have changed in what feels like a hundred years, until Vianne Rocher arrives. It was Mardi Gras when Vianne and her daughter Anouk with her imaginary rabbit, Pantoufle arrive. They have spent their lives wondering from place to place. However, Lansquenet-sous-Tannes appears to be different. After enjoying the Mardi Gras festival so much, they decided to stay. Vianne rents a house and she opens a tempting and luxiourous chocolate shop, La Céleste Praline, in front of the church which causes controversy with Lenton vows. Father Reynaud, the village priest, is not impressed. He believes that by opening a chocolate shop at the time of Lent, a time of fasting, is an insult to religion.
“For a time, then, we stay. For a time. Till the changes.”
Father Reynaud also doesn’t approve of Vianne because of her blatant refusal to attend church or confession. He convinces other parishioners to stay away from her chocolate shop of evil. Yet, despite this, the shop attracts a few curious customers from the start. These, in turn, become some of her closest friends. With every box of her fabulous chocolates, a free gift: Vianne’s perception of its buyers’ private discontents and a clever, yet caring cure for them. The description always makes my mouth water. I can almost taste it.
“I sell dreams, small comforts, sweet harmless temptations to bring down a multitude of saints crashing among the hazels and nougatines”
Vianne is a good listener, doesn’t judge and makes everyone feel welcome within her shop. Her regular clients consist of Armande Voizin, an 80 year old woman who never followed the traditions and customs of the village, Joséphine Muscat, a woman abused by her husband and an old man with a dying dog called Guillaume Duplessis. Vianne talks to her guests and asks them things that make them challenge their original beliefs. She wants to make their lives better, thus making her the catalyst for change. But, some characters do not wish to change.
“Guilleaume left La Praline with a small bag of florentines in his pocket; before he had turned the corner of avenue des Francs Bourgeois I saw him stoop to offer one to the dog. A pat, a bark, a wagging of the short stubby tail. As I said, some people never have to think about giving.”
When river gypsies arrive along the river bank in the village, Vianne and her friends naturally befriend them too. Her attention is focused on the rather handsome yet aloof Roux. His red hair like flames. The river gypsies are not doing anyone any harm to the village or its people. Nevertheless, the priest is ready to resort to any means in order to get rid of them. This adds to the growing tension against Vianne too. A fire starts on one of the boats. Thankfully no one was hurt.
Reynaud’s attempts to sabotage Vianne’s shop, friendships and to drive out the gypsies from the village made her more determined to stay. Yet, her mother’s tarot cards that she reads, continue to show black. There is repeated reference to the ‘Black Man’ throughout the novel. The motif of her mother’s folklore. Reynaud makes it his personal mission to run Vianne out of town. There are pages of description where he is talking about her and her temptations at church on Sunday. Some people listen, but it isn’t long until curiosity gets the better of them.
“Protected from the sun by the half-blind that shields them, they gleam darkly, like sunken treasure, Aladdin’s cave of sweet clichés.”
Vianne organises a Grand Festvial of Chocolate. The shop is decorated beautifully. It is the sign that she has won, that maybe life might be safe here.
“Places do not lose their identity, however far one travels. It is the heart that begins to erode over time. The face in the hotel mirror seems blurred some mornings, as if by too many casual looks. By ten the sheets will be laundered, the carpet swept. The names on the hotel registers change as we pass. We leave no trace as we pass on. Ghostlike, we cast no shadow.”
I love this book. I love the split first person narration. You can really feel the tension between Vianne and Father Reynaud. Yet, as I was reading, I was desperate for the two of them to make peace and find a way to live together in the village. The descriptions of the chocolates make me feel like I can physically taste it. It’s a marvellous book, perfect for this time of year.
Big love xxx