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Chocolat

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Illuminating Peter Mayle's South of France with a touch of Laura Esquivel's magic realism, Chocolat is a timeless novel of a straitlaced village's awakening to joy and sensuality. In tiny Lansquenet, where nothing much has changed in a hundred years, beautiful newcomer Vianne Rocher and her exquisite chocolate shop arrive and instantly begin to play havoc with Lenten vows. Each box of luscious bonbons comes with a free gift: Vianne's uncanny perception of its buyer's private discontents and a clever, caring cure ...
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New 306p. Small crease in the cover. Quality Books...Because We Care-Shipped from Canada. Usually ships within 1-2 business days. If you buy this book from us, we will donate a ... book to a local school. We donate 10, 000+ books to local schools every year. If there are any problems, pleases ask us to resolve it amicably before leaving any feedback. Read more Show Less

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Chocolat

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Overview

Illuminating Peter Mayle's South of France with a touch of Laura Esquivel's magic realism, Chocolat is a timeless novel of a straitlaced village's awakening to joy and sensuality. In tiny Lansquenet, where nothing much has changed in a hundred years, beautiful newcomer Vianne Rocher and her exquisite chocolate shop arrive and instantly begin to play havoc with Lenten vows. Each box of luscious bonbons comes with a free gift: Vianne's uncanny perception of its buyer's private discontents and a clever, caring cure for them. Is she a witch? Soon the parish no longer cares, as it abandons itself to temptation, happiness, and a dramatic face-off between Easter solemnity and the pagan gaiety of a chocolate festival. Chocolat's every page offers a description of chocolate to melt in the mouths of chocoholics, francophiles, armchair gourmets, cookbook readers, and lovers of passion everywhere. It's a must for anyone who craves an escapist read, and is a bewitching gift for any holiday.
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Editorial Reviews

Megan Harlan
...[An] irresistible confection....explores the struggle between good and evil...but ultimately celebrates...indulgence.
People Magazine
Michael Jacobs
Joanne Harris may have created the perfect diet book in her debut novel, Chocolat, a bittersweet confection that's light on plot but satisfying....The novel tries to be profound about life and death, but the pleasure comes from the food...delicious enough to satisfy any sweet tooth and spare you the calories of dessert. -- USA Today
Megan Harlan
...[An] irresistible confection....explores the struggle between good and evil...but ultimately celebrates...indulgence. -- People Magazine
Nancy Willard
Magic abounds in Harris' novel....The gods of legend may dine well in their celestial palaes, but the true sorcery of cooking cannot take plalce unless the cook and the guests are mortal. This paradox of the human condition is surely one of the messages of Harris' book. -- The New York Times Book Review
Sophia Watson
This is a truly excellent book, one of the best it has been my pleasure to read in the line of duty for years. Joanne Harris achieves everything a novelist should aim for, with no sense of effort or striving...Harris's achievement is not only in her story, in her insight and humour and the wonderful picture of small-town life in rural France, but also in her writing...In short, this is what we call a rave review.
Literary Review
Kirkus Reviews
A first novel that rather cloyingly describes the transformations that overtake the residents of a small French village when a mysterious stranger and her daughter arrive and open a chocolate shop. The townspeople of Lansquenet live in the present day, but the patterns of their lives were established long before they were born-and change very little from year to year. A hamlet straight out of Flaubert, Lansquenet is filled with busybodies who have nothing better to do with their days than spy on one another, until two new arrivals provide fresh grist for the mill. What inspired Vivianne Rocher to move to Lansquenet with her daughter Anouk and to open a chocolate boutique is never explained, but her effect on the populace is profound and immediate: the grim little town and its sniping inhabitants are transformed through the magic of Vivianne's confections into an almost surreal assembly of sensualists, each somehow discovering in bonbons the key to happiness. Elderly crones find themselves remembering long-forgotten loves; shy young couples work up the nerve to break the ice. Is this all the result of only chocolate? Or is some more sinister force at work? The local priest suspects the worst, and his suspicions are reinforced by his awareness that Vivianne opened her shop on Shrove Tuesday-and thus has been tempting the entire parish from its Lenten austerities for the past six weeks. Now, she has even announced plans for a "Chocolate Festival" to take place on Easter Sunday itself! Horrified, he hatches a plan to foil her festivities, but God does not always side with the just. Who will win the soul of the town? Premise, prose, and pace all march along capably, but they failnevertheless to raise the whole above the debilities of heavy symbolism and excruciatingly precious plot.
From the Publisher
"Accomplished and delectable....Few readers will be able to resist." —New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385658119
  • Publisher: Doubleday Canada Limited
  • Publication date: 11/14/2000
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.03 (w) x 7.74 (h) x 0.52 (d)

Meet the Author

“I’m a chocoholic! I admit it! I eat it all the time. Almost on a daily basis…but not quite.” Joanne Harris starts the day with drinking chocolate made from milk and proper chocolate. “It’s a stimulant. A bit like coffee. But it tastes better to me.” She doesn’t diet because “I’m not a nice person if I’m doing things like that.”

Harris, who is half French, grew up in her grandparents’ corner sweetshop in Yorkshire, in the north of England. Her mother had just come over from France and didn’t speak English. Joanne grew up speaking French, and still speaks it with her own daughter at home. “Most of the family that I have contact with is French… I’ve been more or less surrounded by French culture since I was born.” She associates chocolate with France, big family reunions and Easter parades. “A lot of members of my family ended up creeping into this story.”

She lives with her husband, small daughter and several cats in the small Yorkshire mining community of Barnsley where she grew up. Harris feels that small communities the world over have much in common, and Barnsley sometimes felt like Lansquenet in its suspicion of the outsider – “because we were a French family, because my mother moved to England without knowing any English and because we were always those funny people at end o’ t’road…”

How did she feel about her book being transformed into a big Hollywood movie? Various changes had to be made, including the fact that the priest figure becomes the mayor in the film. “I understand that when a book gets optioned you basically abnegate all responsibility for it.” When the book was optioned, most of her attention was taken up with her next book, which she’d already started writing. In the end, she was extremely happy with the film. “I thought that the changes were quite minor and were really in the spirit of making it a better film.” She even contributed a few changes of her own, mainly to do with the character of Vianne.

Is there any of Joanne Harris in Vianne Rocher? “Not as much as I would like… I think she is what I would have loved to have been but I am not in any way as confident as she is or indeed as popular. I think there is quite a lot of the priest in me as well.” Like Vianne, though, Harris has a fascination with folklore and alternative beliefs. “I do tend to perform little good-luck rituals… I still cast the runes when I feel like it, and I enjoy making my own incense and growing and using herbs. I like to observe the traditional celebrations at Yule and at other significant times of the year.”

Some readers have seen in Chocolat a comment on the Catholic church. Harris doesn’t feel that way herself. “I never felt that this was to do with religious and secular – it is a story about personalities… It is about tolerance and intolerance.”

The book is also about liberation and indulgence in the pleasures of life, and has struck a chord when many people, sick of the struggle to stay slim, and are feeling that a little indulgence can be good for the soul. Another British author Helen Fielding, whose Bridget Jones’ Diary has also been adapted for the screen, created a popular character who grappled with diet over desire, and Canadian food writer John Allemang, in The Importance of Lunch, has written winningly on the simple pleasures of food. If Chocolat reminds us of anything, though, it’s gorgeous, sensuous and romantic films such as Babette’s Feast and Big Night with their celebration of food and life; similarly the Japanese film Tampopo, with its focus on a noodle shop, and the recent acclaimed Chinese film Shower, where a small community revolves around an old-fashioned bath-house. Small wonder Chocolat has been a massive international success.

Harris published two earlier books, both darker in tone – “I was aiming for a kind of literary horror/gothic genre” – and not nearly as widely read. Recently, her work is much more optimistic and fun, though she still tends to write darker stories when the weather is bad, and happy stories when the sun shines (“I wrote Chocolat from March to July, and it shows”). Since Chocolat, she has published two more books with mouth-watering themes: Blackberry Wine, narrated by a bottle of vintage wine, and The Five Quarters of an Orange, which contains recipes for crepes. “I come from a family where there is a long tradition of cooking and recipes are handed down from various parts of the family – usually down the French side.” As the film of Chocolat was being released, she was at work on a screenplay for Coastliners, to be published as a novel in 2003, about two communities of villagers on a French island, fighting for a beach.

Harris reads widely in English and French, citing Nabokov and Mervyn Peake as major inspirational influences for their love of language. She taught French at Leeds Grammar School for many years and had been writing in her spare time when she hit the big time with Chocolat in 1999. Although she sometimes misses her former existence as a teacher, she is very happy to be able to make a living out of writing. “Giving up teaching was a very difficult decision for me to take; it was a job I enjoyed, and that I was good at, and I was very much aware that I was giving it up for something much riskier and, in some ways, something quite alien to my nature. However, some rainbows you have to chase.” If writing for a living stopped giving her pleasure, she would go back to teaching “without a qualm”. But she’d keep on writing.

“I know I'd write whether I was being published or not. I'm addicted.”

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Read an Excerpt

We came on the wind of the carnival. A warm wind for February, laden with the hot greasy scents of frying pancakes and sausages and powdery-sweet waffles cooked on the hot plate right there by the roadside, with the confetti sleeting down collars and cuffs and rolling in the gutters like an idiot antidote to winter. There is a febrile excitement in the crowds that line the narrow main street, necks craning to catch sight of the crêpe-covered char with its trailing ribbons and paper rosettes. Anouk watches, eyes wide, a yellow balloon in one hand and a toy trumpet in the other, from between a shopping basket and a sad brown dog. We have seen carnivals before, she and I; a procession of two hundred and fifty of the decorated chars in Paris last Mardi Gras, a hundred and eighty in New York, two dozen marching bands in Vienna, clowns on stilts, the Grosses Têtes with their lolling papier-mâché heads, drum majorettes with batons spinning and sparkling. But at six the world retains a special luster. A wooden cart, hastily decorated with gilt and crêpe and scenes from fairy tales. A dragon's head on a shield, Rapunzel in a woolen wig, a mermaid with a cellophane tail, a gingerbread house all icing and gilded cardboard, a witch in the doorway, waggling extravagant green fingernails at a group of silent children. ... At six it is possible to perceive subtleties that a year later are already out of reach. Behind the papier-mâché, the icing, the plastic, she can still see the real witch, the real magic. She looks up at me, her eyes, which are the blue-green of Earth seen from a great height, shining.

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First Chapter

Chapter One


February 11.
Shrove Tuesday


We came on the wind of the carnival. A warm wind for February, laden with the hot greasy scents of frying pancakes and sausages and powdery-sweet waffles cooked on the hot plate right there by the roadside, with the confetti sleeting down collars and cuffs and rolling in the gutters like an idiot antidote to winter. There is a febrile excitement in the crowds that line the narrow main street, necks craning to catch sight of the crêpe-covered char with its trailing ribbons and paper rosettes. Anouk watches, eyes wide, a yellow balloon in one hand and a toy trumpet in the other, from between a shopping basket and a sad brown dog. We have seen carnivals before, she and I; a procession of two hundred and fifty of the decorated chars in Paris last Mardi Gras, a hundred and eighty in New York, two dozen marching bands in Vienna, clowns on stilts, the Grosses Têtes with their lolling papier-mâché heads, drum majorettes with batons spinning and sparkling. But at six the world retains a special luster. A wooden cart, hastily decorated with gilt and crêpe and scenes from fairy tales. A dragon's head on a shield, Rapunzel in a woolen wig, a mermaid with a cellophane tail, a gingerbread house all icing and gilded cardboard, a witch in the doorway, waggling extravagant green fingernails at a group of silent children.... At six it is possible to perceive subtleties that a year later are already out of reach. Behind the papier-mâché, the icing, the plastic, she can still see the real witch, the real magic. She looks up at me, her eyes, which are the blue-green of Earth seen from a great height, shining.

    "Are we staying? Are we staying here?" I have to remind her to speak French. "But are we? Are we?" She clings to my sleeve. Her hair is a cotton-candy tangle in the wind.

    I consider. It's as good a place as any. Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, two hundred souls at most, no more than a blip on the fast road between Toulouse and Bordeaux. Blink once, and it's gone. One main street, a double row of dun-colored half-timbered houses leaning secretively together, a few laterals running parallel like the tines of a bent fork. A church, aggressively whitewashed, in a square of little shops. Farms scattered across the watchful land. Orchards, vineyards, strips of earth enclosed and regimented according to the strict apartheid of country farming: here apples, there kiwis, melons, endives beneath their black plastic shells, vines looking blighted and dead in the thin February sun but awaiting triumphant resurrection by March.... Behind that the Tannes, small tributary of the Garonne, fingers its way across the marshy pasture. And the people? They look much like all others we have known; a little pale perhaps in the unaccustomed sunlight, a little drab. Headscarves and berets are the color of the hair beneath, brown, black, or gray. Faces are lined like last summer's apples, eyes pushed into wrinkled flesh like marbles into old dough. A few children, flying colors of red and lime green and yellow, seem like a different race. As the char advances ponderously along the street behind the old tractor that pulls it, a large woman with a square, unhappy face clutches a tartan coat about her shoulders and shouts something in the half-comprehensible local dialect; on the wagon a squat Santa Claus, out of season among the fairies and sirens and goblins, hurls sweets at the crowd with barely restrained aggression. A small-featured elderly man, wearing a felt hat rather than the round beret more common to the region, picks up the sad brown dog from between my legs with a look of polite apology. I see his thin graceful fingers moving in the dog's fur; the dog whines; the master's expression becomes complex with love, concern, guilt. No one looks at us. We might as well be invisible; our clothing marks us as strangers, transients. They are polite, so polite; no one stares at us. The woman, her long hair tucked into the collar of her orange coat, a long silk scarf fluttering at her throat; the child in yellow Wellingtons and sky blue mac. Their coloring marks them. Their clothes are exotic, their faces--are they too pale or too dark?--their hair marks them other, foreign, indefinably strange. The people of Lansquenet have learned the art of observation without eye contact. I feel their gaze like a breath on the nape of my neck, strangely without hostility but cold nevertheless. We are a curiosity to them, a part of the carnival, a whiff of the outlands. I feel their eyes upon us as I turn to buy a galette from the vendor. The paper is hot and greasy, the dark wheat pancake crispy at the edges but thick and good in the center. I break off a piece and give it to Anouk, wiping melted butter from her chin. The vendor is a plump, balding man with thick glasses, his face slick with the steam from the hot plate. He winks at her. With the other eye he takes in every detail, knowing there will be questions later.

    "On holiday, madame?" Village etiquette allows him to ask; behind his tradesman's indifference I see a real hunger. Knowledge is currency here; with Agen and Montauban so close, tourists are a rarity.

    "For a while."

    "From Paris, then?" It must be our clothes. In this garish land the people are drab. Color is a luxury; it wears badly. The bright blossoms of the roadside are weeds, invasive, useless.

    "No, no, not Paris."

    The char is almost at the end of the street. A small band--two fifes, two trumpets, a trombone, and a side drum--follow it, playing a thin unidentifiable march. A dozen children scamper in its wake, picking up the unclaimed sweets. Some are in costume; I see Little Red Riding Hood and a shaggy person who might be the wolf squabbling companionably over possession of a handful of streamers.

    A black figure brings up the rear. At first I take him for a part of the parade--the Plague Doctor, maybe--but as he approaches I recognize the old-fashioned soutane of the country priest. He is in his thirties, though from a distance his rigid stance makes him seem older. He turns toward me, and I see that he too is a stranger, with the high cheekbones and pale eyes of the north and long pianist's fingers resting on the silver cross that hangs from his neck. Perhaps this is what gives him the right to stare at me, this alienness; but I see no welcome in his cold, light eyes. Only the measuring, feline look of one who is uncertain of his territory. I smile at him; he looks away, startled; beckons the two children toward him. A gesture indicates the litter that now lines the road; reluctantly the pair begin to clear it, scooping up spent streamers and candy wrappers in their arms and into a nearby bin. I catch the priest staring at me again as I turn away, a look that in another man might have been of appraisal.

    There is no police station at Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, therefore no crime. I try to be like Anouk, to see beneath the disguise to the truth, but for now everything is blurred.

    "Are we staying? Are we, maman?" She tugs at my arm, insistently. "I like it, I like it here. Are we staying?"

    I catch her up into my arms and kiss the top of her head. She smells of smoke and frying pancakes and warm bedclothes on a winter's morning.

    Why not? It's as good a place as any.

    "Yes, of course," I tell her, my mouth in her hair. "Of course we are." Not quite a lie. This time it may even be true.


* * *


The carnival is gone. Once a year the village flares into transient brightness, but even now the warmth has faded, the crowd dispersed. The vendors pack up their hot plates and awnings, the children discard their costumes and party favors. A slight air of embarrassment prevails, of abashment at this excess of noise and color. Like rain in midsummer it evaporates, runs into the cracked earth and through the parched stones, leaving barely a trace. Two hours later Lansquenet-sous-Tannes is invisible once more, like an enchanted village that appears only once every year. But for the carnival we should have missed it altogether.

    We have gas but as yet no electricity. On our first night I made pancakes for Anouk by candlelight and we ate them by the fireside, using an old magazine for plates, as none of our things can be delivered until tomorrow. The shop was originally a bakery and still carries the baker's wheatsheaf carved above the narrow doorway, but the floor is thick with a floury dust, and we picked our way across a drift of junk mail as we came in. The lease seems ridiculously cheap, accustomed as we are to city prices; even so I caught the sharp glance of suspicion from the woman at the agency as I counted out the banknotes. On the lease document I am Vianne Rocher, the signature a hieroglyph that might mean anything. By the light of the candle we explored our new territory; the old ovens still surprisingly good beneath the grease and soot, the pine-paneled walls, the blackened earthen tiles. Anouk found the old awning folded away in a back room, and we dragged it out; spiders scattered from under the faded canvas. Our living area is above the shop: two rooms and a bathroom, ridiculously tiny balcony, terra-cotta planter with dead geraniums.... Anouk made a face when she saw it.

    "It's so dark, maman." She sounded awed, uncertain in the face of so much dereliction. "And it smells so sad."

    She is right. The smell is like daylight trapped for years until it has gone sour and rancid, of mouse droppings and the ghosts of things unremembered and unmourned. It echoes like a cave, the small heat of our presence only serving to accentuate every shadow. Paint and sunlight and soapy water will rid it of the grime, but the sadness is another matter, the forlorn resonance of a house where no one has laughed for years. Anouk's face looked pale and large-eyed in the candlelight, her hand tightening in mine.

    "Do we have to sleep here?" she asked. "Pantoufle doesn't like it. He's afraid."

    I smiled and kissed her solemn golden cheek. "Pantoufle is going to help us."

    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 were 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 afterimage of a sparkler held in the hand--here a wall adazzle with golden paint, there an armchair, a little shabby but colored a triumphant orange, the old awning suddenly glowing as half-hidden colors slide out from beneath the layers of grime. Out! Out! Out! Anouk 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 it. Rock salt and bread by the doorstep to placate any resident gods. Sandalwood on our pillow to sweeten our dreams.

    Later Anouk told me Pantoufle wasn't frightened anymore, so that was all right. We slept together in our clothes on the floury mattress in the bedroom with all the candles burning, and when we awoke it was morning.


Chapter Two


February 12.
Ash Wednesday


Actually the bells woke us. I hadn't realized quite how close we were to the church until I heard them, a single low resonant drone falling into a bright carillon--dómmm flá-di-dadi-dómmmm--on the downbeat. I looked at my watch. It was six o'clock. Gray-gold light filtered through the broken shutters onto the bed. I stood up and looked out onto the square, with its wet cobbles shining. The square white church tower stood out sharply in the morning sunlight, rising from a hollow of dark shopfronts; a bakery, a florist, a shop selling graveyard paraphernalia--plaques, stone angels, enameled everlasting roses.... Above these discreetly shuttered facades the white tower is a beacon, the Roman numerals of the clock gleaming redly at six-twenty to baffle the devil, the Virgin in her dizzy eyrie watching the square with a faintly sickened expression. At the tip of the short spire, a weathervane turns--west to west-north-west--a robed man with a scythe. From the balcony with the dead geranium I could see the first arrivals to mass. I recognized the woman in the tartan coat from the carnival; I waved to her, but she hurried on without an answering gesture, pulling her coat protectively around her. Behind her the felt-hatted man with his sad brown dog in tow gave me a hesitant smile. I called down brightly to him, but seemingly village etiquette did not allow for such informalities, for he did not respond, hurrying in his turn into the church, taking his dog with him.

    After that no one even looked up at my window, though I counted over sixty heads--scarves, berets, hats drawn down against an invisible wind--but I felt their studied, curious indifference. They had matters of importance to consider, said their hunched shoulders and lowered heads. Their feet dragged sullenly at the cobbles like the feet of children going to school. This one has given up smoking today, I knew; that one his weekly visit to the cafe, another will forgo her favorite foods. It's none of my business, of course. But I felt at that moment that if ever a place were in need of a little magic ... Old habits never die. And when you've once been in the business of granting wishes, the impulse never quite leaves you. And besides, the wind, the carnival wind, was still blowing, bringing with it the dim scent of grease and cotton candy and gunpowder, the hot sharp scents of the changing seasons, making the palms itch and the heart beat faster.... For a time, then, we stay. For a time. Till the wind changes.


* * *


We bought the paint in the general store, and with it brushes, rollers, soap, and buckets. We began upstairs and worked down, stripping curtains and throwing broken fittings onto the growing pile in the tiny back garden, soaping floors and making tidal waves down the narrow, sooty stairway so that both of us were soaked several times through. Anouk's scrubbing brush became a submarine, and mine a tanker that sent noisy soap torpedoes scudding down the stairs and into the hall. In the middle of this I heard the doorbell jangle and looked up, soap in one hand, brush in the other, at the tall figure of the priest.

    I'd wondered how long it would take him to arrive.

    He considered us for a time, smiling. A guarded smile, proprietary, benevolent; the lord of the manor welcomes inopportune guests. I could feel him very conscious of my wet and dirty overalls, my hair caught up in a red scarf, my bare feet in their dripping sandals.

    "Good morning." There was a rivulet of scummy water heading for his highly polished black shoe. I saw his eyes flick toward it and back to me.

    "Francis Reynaud," he said, discreetly sidestepping. "Curé of the parish."

    I laughed at that; I couldn't help it. "Oh, that's it," I said maliciously. "I thought you were with the carnival." Polite laughter; heh, heh, heh.

    I held out a yellow plastic glove. "Vianne Rocher. And the bombardier back there is my daughter, Anouk."

    Sounds of soap explosions, and of Anouk fighting Pantoufle on the stairs. I could hear the priest waiting for details of Mr. Rocher. So much easier to have everything on a piece of paper, everything official, avoid this uncomfortable, messy conversation....

    "I suppose you were very busy this morning."

    I suddenly felt sorry for him, trying so hard, straining to make contact. Again the forced smile.

    "Yes, we really need to get this place in order as soon as possible. It's going to take time! But we wouldn't have been at church this morning anyway, monsieur le curé. We don't attend, you know." It was kindly meant, to show him where we stood, to reassure him; but he looked startled, almost insulted.

    "I see."

    It was too direct. He would have liked us to dance a little, to circle each other like wary cats.

    "But it's very kind of you to welcome us," I continued brightly. "You might even be able to help us make a few friends here."

    He is a little like a cat himself, I notice; cold, light eyes that never hold the gaze, a restless watchfulness, studied, aloof.

    "I'll do anything I can." He is indifferent now that he knows we are not to be members of his flock. And yet his conscience pushes him to offer more than he is willing to give. "Have you anything in mind?"

    "Well, we could do with some help here," I suggested. "Not you, of course--" quickly, as he began to reply. "But perhaps you know someone who could do with the extra money? A plasterer, someone who might be able to help with the decorating?" This was surely safe territory.

    "I can't think of anyone." He is guarded, more so than anyone I have ever met. "But I'll ask around." Perhaps he will. He knows his duty to the new arrival. But I know he will not find anyone. His is not a nature that grants favors graciously. His eyes flicked warily to the pile of bread and salt by the door.

    "For luck." I smiled, but his face was stony. He skirted the little offering as if it offended him.

    "Maman?" Anouk's head appeared in the doorway, hair standing out in crazy spikes. "Pantoufle wants to play outside. Can we?"

    I nodded. "Stay in the garden." I wiped a smudge of dirt from the bridge of her nose. "You look a complete urchin." I saw her glance at the priest and caught her comical look just in time. "This is Monsieur Reynaud, Anouk. Why don't you say hello?"

    "Hello!" shouted Anouk on the way to the door. "Good-bye!" A blur of yellow jumper and red overalls and she was gone, her feet skidding manically on the greasy tiles. Not for the first time, I was almost sure I saw Pantoufle disappearing in her wake, a darker smudge against the dark lintel.

    "She's only six," I said by way of explanation.

    Reynaud gave a tight, sour smile, as if his first glimpse of my daughter confirmed every one of his suspicions about me.


Chapter Three


Thursday, February 13.


Thank God that's over. Visits tire me to the bone. I don't mean you, of course, mon père; my weekly visit to you is a luxury, you might almost say my only one. I hope you like the flowers. They don't look much, but they smell wonderful. I'll put them here, beside your chair, where you can see them. It's a good view from here across the fields, with the Tannes in the middle distance and the Garonne gleaming in the far. You might almost imagine we were alone. Oh, I'm not complaining. Not really. But you must know how heavy it is for one man to carry. Their petty concerns, their dissatisfactions, their foolishness, their thousand trivial problems ... On Tuesday it was the carnival. Anyone might have taken them for savages, dancing and screaming. Louis Perrin's youngest, Claude, fired a water pistol at me, and what would his father say but that he was a youngster, and needed to play a little? All I want is to guide them, mon père, to free them from their sin. But they fight me at every turn, like children refusing wholesome fare in order to continue eating what sickens them. I know you understand. For fifty years you held all this on your shoulders in patience and strength. You earned their love. Have times changed so much? Here I am feared, respected ... but loved, no. Their faces are sullen, resentful. Yesterday they left the service with ash on their foreheads and a look of guilty relief. Left to their secret indulgences, their solitary vices. Don't they understand? The Lord sees everything. I see everything. Paul-Marie Muscat beats his wife. He pays ten Aves weekly in the confessional and leaves to begin again in exactly the same way. His wife steals. Last week she went to the market and stole trumpery jewelry from a vendor's stall. Guillaume Duplessis wants to know if animals have souls, and weeps when I tell him they don't. Charlotte Edouard thinks her husband has a mistress--I know he has three, but the confessional keeps me silent. What children they are! Their demands leave me bloodied and reeling. But I cannot afford to show weakness. Sheep are not the docile, pleasant creatures of the pastoral idyll. Any countryman will tell you that. They are sly, occasionally vicious, pathologically stupid. The lenient shepherd may find his flock unruly, defiant. I cannot afford to be lenient. That is why, once a week, I allow myself this one indulgence. Your mouth is as closely sealed, mon père, as that of the confessional. Your ears are always open, your heart always kind. For an hour I can lay aside the burden. I can be fallible.

    We have a new parishioner. A Vianne Rocher, a widow, I take it, with a young child. Do you remember old Blaireau's bakery? Four years since he died, and the place has been going to ruin ever since. Well, she has taken the lease on it, and hopes to reopen by the end of the week. I don't expect it to last. We already have Poitou's bakery across the square, and besides, she'll never fit in. A pleasant enough woman, but she has nothing in common with us. Give her two months, and she'll be back to the city where she belongs. Funny, I never did find out where she was from. Paris, I expect, or maybe even across the border. Her accent is pure, almost too pure for a Frenchwoman, with the clipped vowels of the north, though her eyes suggest Italian or Portuguese descent, and her skin ... But I didn't really see her. She worked in the bakery all yesterday and today. There is a sheet of orange plastic over the window, and occasionally she or her little wild daughter appears to tip a bucket of dirty water into the gutter, or to talk animatedly with some workman or other. She has an odd facility for acquiring helpers. Though I offered to assist her, I doubted whether she would find many of our villagers willing. And yet I saw Clairmont early this morning, carrying a load of wood, then Pourceau with his ladders. Poitou sent some furniture; I saw him carrying an armchair across the square with the furtive look of a man who does not wish to be seen. Even that ill-tempered backbiter Narcisse, who flatly refused to dig over the churchyard last November, went over there with his tools to tidy up her garden. This morning at about eight-forty a delivery van arrived in front of the shop. Duplessis, who was walking his dog at the usual time, was just passing at that moment, and she called him over to help her unload. I could see he was startled by the request--for a second I was almost certain he would refuse--one hand halfway to his hat. She said something then--I didn't hear what it was--and I heard her laughter ringing across the cobbles. She laughs a great deal, and makes many extravagant comical gestures with her arms. Again a city trait, I suppose. We are accustomed to a greater reserve in the people around us, but I expect she means well. A violet scarf was knotted gypsy-fashion around her head, but most of her hair had escaped from beneath it and was streaked with white paint. She didn't seem to mind. Duplessis could not recall later what she had said to him, but said in his diffident way that the delivery was nothing, only a few boxes, small but quite heavy, and some open crates containing kitchen utensils. He did not ask what was in the boxes, though he doubts such a small supply of anything would go very far in a bakery.

    Do not imagine, mon père, that I spent my day watching the bakery. It is simply that it stands almost immediately opposite my own house--the one that was yours, mon père, before all this. Throughout the last day and a half there has been nothing but hammering and painting and whitewashing and scrubbing until in spite of myself I cannot help but be curious to see the result. I am not alone in this; I overheard Madame Clairmont gossiping self-importantly to a group of friends outside Poitou's of her husband's work; there was talk of "red shutters" before they noticed me and subsided into sly muttering. As if I cared. The new arrival has certainly provided food for gossip, if nothing else. I find the orange-covered window catches the eye at the strangest times. It looks like a huge bonbon waiting to be unwrapped, like a remaining slice of the carnival. There is something unsettling about its brightness and the way the plastic folds catch the sun; I will be happy when the work is finished and the place is a bakery once more.

    The nurse is trying to catch my eye. She thinks I tire you. How can you bear them, with their loud voices and nursery manner? Time for our rest, now, I think. Her archness is jarring, unbearable. And yet she means kindly, your eyes tell me. Forgive them, they know not what they do. I am not kind. I come here for my own relief, not yours. And yet I like to believe my visits give you pleasure, keeping you in touch with the hard edges of a world gone soft and featureless. Television an hour a night, turning five times a day, food through a tube. To be talked over as if you were an object--Can he hear us? Do you think he understands?--your opinions unsought, discarded ... To be closed from everything, and yet to feel, to think ... This is the truth of hell, stripped of its gaudy medievalisms. This loss of contact. And yet I look to you to teach me communication. Teach me hope.

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Reading Group Guide

1. To what extent is Reynaud the villain of the piece? Is it possible to understand or sympathize with the motivations and feelings behind his actions?

2. Reynaud and Vianne seem to be natural enemies from the start, and yet they both have significant elements in common: a haunted past, a desire for acceptance. How do you think this affects their relationship?

3. The preparation and eating of food is decribed in detail in many parts of the book. What is the significance of this, and what do the attitudes of the main characters towards food show about their personalities?

4. The author uses the first-person narrative voice for both of her principal characters. Why do you feel she does this, and how effective is each in showing the character's attitudes and motivations?

5. Vianne appears to other people as a strong and confident woman, but is secretly filled with fears and insecurities. To what extent do you think she has been strengthened or damaged by her relationship with her bohemian mother?

6. The themes of moving on and settling down recur frequently in the book. Why do you think Vianne wants so badly to remain in the village? Do you think she eventually decides to stay?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 91 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 91 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 15, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Chocolat....Delicious, but...

    Chocolat is a very well written story, and it paints a clear picture in your mind. The characters and the plot are put together beautifully. It's thought provoking. It's wonderful. It's a great book.
    But....
    The book is almost always better than the movie. Almost. There has never been a time in my life when I have found a movie better than it's book. I think I just found an exception. For example: Roux and Vienne's relationship. In the movie, it was perfect. In the book.....it was a one night stand. Where was the magic? Where was the beauty? Where was the love? Uggh! That really disappointed me. Maybe in the next book, they will redeem themselves, but until then....
    Also, in the movie, there's more drama. Not so much that it's ridiculous, but enough to make you reach out to the characters. Like in the boat scene. While watching the movie, I really felt for Vienne, and was genuinely scared for Anouk. It made the characters more real. But in the book, they didn't have as much of that. I'll give Joanne props for Charly and Guillame, but as for everyone else...I don't know. It just didn't have as much as an impact on me as the movie.
    But hey, don't let me curve you're thinking. The book beautifully crafted. There was a lot of thought and creativity that went into it. And without it, I wouldn't have an amazing movie to compare it to.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 30, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Chocolat

    I loved this book (and the movie as well) and didn't want it to end. All in all, the story is about prejudice, fear of the stranger, and people who rush to judgement, told in a uniquely fanciful and magical way. Joanne Harris's descriptive talents reach the central nervous system of the reader to actually cause salivation when she creates the confections in the book! There is good character development and depth. The characters become real humans with real loves and hates, each attempting to live out lives that either become what they "should be" or discover what they "can be" if they become open to knowing those who are different. Love in the end seems to triumph even in the midst of tragedy. The ending is somewhat open-ended which is a perfect entree to book club discussion. Please read this book!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2008

    My Favorite Book

    'Chocolat', the beautiful and captivating story i read a few years ago, still stands as my favorite book. Joanne Harris writes with powerful and colorful imagery in this story about love, self-confidence, friendship and of course chocolate. Don't forget to read the sequel also, 'The Girl With No Shadow' (US), 'The Lollipop Shoes' (UK).

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2008

    Chocolat, je t'aime beaucoup!

    Delicious. Scrumptuous. Succulent. Tantalizing. Intoxicating. C'est tres magnifique!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2006

    It doesn't matter if you saw the movie first.

    If you saw the movie first, it's OK. You will be enchanted reading this lovely fable. You will also find you have to get up presently, make a good cup of coffee and get a piece of that chocolate you were trying to forget. Just forget about forgetting chocolate for now.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2006

    What a wonderful, wonderful book.

    Chocolat was simply amazing. The characters all have such allure and sophistication, even the antagonists! I absolutely adored this book. Do yourself a favor and read it, you won't be disappointed.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2004

    In one word...'Charming'

    The book and film are so alike. The story is so charming. The kind of story that leaves you all fuzzy and warm inside :-D

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 24, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    fun read

    Delightful book!

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  • Posted December 10, 2012

    Must Read

    Must read!!! Love this book. Will read it again and again.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2012

    Boring

    I've heard good reviews about this book but I had a hard time getting interested and quit reading it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2011

    Delish

    This book was a fun read. Really makes you take a look into just how shallow some people are. Even people who are most admired can be different then they seem....in the end all humanity cares about is themselves....this book did make me crave chocolate a little too much!

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  • Posted December 4, 2011

    For Lovers of all things French!

    The author does a wonderful job of evoking breath-taking images of rural France, and the characters she describes are unique and add color to an already vivid story. Perfectly balanced between humor and drama, it is a story every lover of France (and chocolate) must read. You will not be disappointed!

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  • Posted December 11, 2010

    Richly Satisfying

    Chocolat / 978-1-101-19994-7 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. 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 slowly descends into madness, as does his precise narrative; Vianne's fear of weakness and displacement causes her to falsely claim that she never cries, causes her to state a yearning to move on which does not exist, and causes her to doubt her own importance to her lover Roux - creating a tantalizing problem for the reader: do we believe Vianne or do we believe Roux and his actions? The problem is - like Vianne's chocolates - delicate and bitter-sweet, with possibilities abounding on either side. Although this is a novel featuring a single mother, and a non-Christian at that, I do not believe that this novel represents an attack on any particular way of life. Vianne states, early on, that the goal of life is "to be happy" (without, of course, hurting others in the process). Though the antagonist is a priest, it is clear that he has his own individual demons, and it is *not* his office within the church which makes him evil. Several villagers are held up as examples of genuine Christians who do not flaunt their belief purely for power or social standing. Nor is this some kind of screed against men - Vianne, Josephine, and Armande are aided time and again by kind, emotionally strong men who value these women for their strength of character. Indeed, if I were to call this style of writing anything, I would call it 'humanist' - it is clear that Vianne is no less a valuable person for being a female or for being a witch; no less is Guillaume a valuable person for being a male or for being a Christian. All these people, Harris seems to be saying, are people and thus deserve love and a little bit of kindness in their life and, she suggests, the right and privilege to decide when enough is enough. (Whether or not the reader agrees is left gently to the reader - Harris is not preachy or didactic.) I highly recommend this book for anyone - this is a book that spans gender, religion, age, and country. (Note: Chocolat is best enjoyed with a tall glass of milk and dark chocolate truffles near at hand!) ~ Ana Mardoll

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2010

    movie was great so decided to get the book

    my wife loves this writer ever since we saw the johnny depp movie. this book is only part of a series with the main characters

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 24, 2010

    A story of a woman and her daughter-

    A woman and her daughter move into a town and open a chocolate shop (yum- I was hungry the whole book) :) The priest is very unfriendly towards her, she ends up making a few friends- reliving her past with her mother. Very french- I love her name. This book was hard to get into but had a good ending.

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  • Posted December 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    tantalizing....

    Chocolat is a tale of prejudice, bigotry....and chocolate? It's the tale of a beautifully pagan chocolotiere and a handsome red headed river gypsy who the town priest preaches against.

    When the enchanting Vianne comes to set up a chocolate shop in a provincial Paris town, all hell breaks loose thanks to Pere Reynaud, the parish priest. Vianne refuses to go to church, she has a daughter out of wedlock, she tells all kinds of pagan stories and she wants to have a chocolate festival on Easter morning. She gets under Pere Reynaud's skin at every turn. All she really wants though is to make people happy. And she does. Chocolat has some beautiful characters and the pastoral setting was charming. The descriptions, especially of the chocolates, was mouth-watering and tantalizing. What I didn't like was the ending. Too much was left unsaid. There was not enough closure for my taste. Besides that, the book was a very enjoyable read. I think I enjoyed the movie a bit more though.

    Word of warning: have lots of chocolate handy while reading this. ; )

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  • Posted November 28, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    The Chocolate Shop of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes

    Chocolat was deliciously crafted just as the chocolates in Vianne's pretty shop. Writing with the preciseness of a Frenchwoman, Ms. Harris made me feel like I was in Lansquenet, drinking chocolate while watching the life of the dreary little town go on by. Vianne Rocher is a beautiful woman full of passion and wanderlust who drifts into a small French town to open up a chocolate shop and to teach people how to be happy. What better book is there to read on a rainy day, in the bath, on the deck of a ship, or on a comfortable sofa? Just like the marzipan and chocolates of La Praline in Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, this book is something which one can really sink his teeth into.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2006

    Honestly, Divine!

    I think that Joanne Harris must have had a deep insight into human nature. This was worth the read and more. The characters leave one with the sense that one has met them before, certainly in current life, if not past. Truly, I wholly enjoyed Chocolat, and have read it many times.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2005

    Fall In Love Every Time

    This book does it for me every time. Stumbled upon it one rainy afternoon in the local library and what an adventure. Love the book, love the movie.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2004

    Mystically Charming

    Chocolat is an enchanting novel with a rustic and magical aura. Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk, along with her imaginary rabbit Pantoufle, are carried to a small French village by the calls of the wind. She sets up a chocolaterie that gains notoriety from the not-so-pleased priest, Francis Reynaud, who believes temptation strays from salvation. Vianne along with whimsical characters Josephine Muscat, Armande Voizin, and Roux as well as the other gypsies on the river Tannes, help cast a charming light for the plot. The ending gave one hope for more, which made the tale less satisfactory. The sensuality of the chocolate recipes just adds to the enjoyment of the book. However, the movie in my opinion was much better. It gave a sense of resolution to the entire ordeal. The novel had a good versus evil struggle while the movie seemed to show the struggle more realistically, as a brawl between clashing ideas that are not understood.

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