Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Compelling . . . Harris once again revels in the smells and tastes of French food."
"The craftsmanship and emotional power of this novel...place Ms. Harris in the forefront of women writers."
New York Times Book Review
"Unexpectedly sweet and powerful."
The Barnes & Noble Review
From Joanne Harris, the author of Chocolat, comes another highly palatable saga of complex human relationships and the sometimes twisted vagaries of love. In Five Quarters of the Orange, Harris tells a haunting story of dark secrets and bitter tragedy in a tale that simmers its way to a roiling boil.
Sixty-three-year-old Framboise Dartigen returns incognito to the tiny French village where she lived as a child, in order to confront a horrific tragedy that occurred 55 years earlier during the German occupation -- a tragedy that implicated her family and still haunts the town to this day. Back then, while her widowed mother struggled to make a living from her fruit farm, Framboise and her siblings befriended a German soldier who provided them with treats in exchange for tidbits of information. Then a seemingly innocent series of events snowballed into a horrifying tragedy -- the truth of which is hidden (mingled with hundreds of family recipes) in a scrapbook her mother has bequeathed to her. Now, as that truth is about to surface, Framboise must expose painful family secrets and face the facts of her own complicity.
Harris digs deep into the complex fabric of family relationships, deftly contrasting the innocence of a young girl’s dreams with her capability for cruelty. This tantalizing mix of intrigue and betrayal makes for a sensual and sumptuous literary feast. (Beth Amos)
"... to be acutely conscious is a disease, a real, honest-to-goodness disease." -- Fyodor M. Dostoevsky, Notes from the Underground
After Like Water for Chocolate, The Edible Woman, and Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, another novel about dysfunctional mother-daughter relationships and culinary obsessions might seem as deflated as a failed soufflé. But Joanne Harris, author of the popular Chocolat (which was the basis for the Oscar-nominated movie) has served up a paella of Freudian themes and historical perspective with renewed vigor in Five Quarters of the Orange.
The story is told by Framboise Dartigen, who recalls her childhood in the small French village where she lived during the Nazi occupation. In old age, Framboise has moved back to the village, and the same house, as an anonymous widow, eager to avoid the long-lasting stigmas surrounding her family. Instead she concocts a new reputation as an aloof, vaguely eccentric creperie owner and toils in the kitchen with Spartan determination while thinking about her mother, who was an abusive, mysterious morphine addict.
Framboise's recollections and insights are inspired by a journal cum scrapbook à la cookbook that she inherited from her mother. The scrapbook becomes the center of a feud: Framboise's bourgeois nephew and his nouveau cuisine restaurant-owning wife want to capitalize on old family recipes. But Framboise won't hand the diary over to her nephew because it contains an unhealthy portion of family secrets. While the narration constantly travels back and forth in time, between this conflict and Framboise's troubled childhood, some of Harris' finest writing can be found in quoting the scrapbook. Lines as simple as, "Like the clock, I am divided," tap into the feelings and frustrations of an unbalanced druggie widow with rare clarity.
This novel is unusually visceral -- think Annie Dillard meets Wolfgang Puck -- and entices you to stretch your sympathies so far that you almost fall in love with a young Nazi soldier. As young Framboise Dartigen hunts for Old Mother, an enormous, stubborn, and mystical pike living in the Loire, the fish becomes a metaphor for pride, barely visible in the turbulent waters surrounding human nature. From the beginning of the story, it is clear that something dreadful happened in Framboise's village involving her mother, the Germans, and the murky Loire.
Framboise Dartigen's self-consciousness is occasionally a detriment to her voice. Harris' character repeats herself, her thoughts are often fragmented, and she spends an extraordinary amount of time defending her slow disclosure of family tragedies, causing the reader -- who really doesn't care if Framboise takes her time -- to feel impatient. "I know, I know," Framboise says in the beginning. "You want me to get to the point. But this is at least as important as the rest, the method of telling, and the time taken to tell..." Do we need to hear this? Perhaps not. Does it seem a bit condescending? A little bit, yes. On the other hand, Framboise must relive the memories buried deep, literally between the lines of her mother's recipes, in order to begin her own life again.
Fitting a story as complex as this into one novel is like packing a whale into a casserole dish.
In creating Framboise Dartigen to narrate a coming of age story about love and war in which, of course, nothing is fair, Harris bites off a lot to chew. But you have to admire the author for succeeding so beautifully. -- Jessie Hawkins
[Harris's] prose reads like poetry, and it is a physical experience to fall into her imagery.
It's a good thing Harris enjoys writing about food. The attention surrounding Chocolat, her novel that was adapted into an award-winning film, will likely send readers to the shelves in search of another magical narrative incorporating lovingly-prepared delicacies. The story of Framboise Dartigen (the character's siblings are also named for various edibles and spices) begins with this sixtysomething woman returning to the French village where she was raised, and where dark secrets that only she knows are buried. Armed with a prized cookbook willed to her by her temperamental mother (it is the memento that identifies her as the favorite child), Dartigen opens up a creperie, which provides the author with plenty of opportunity to describe a lush variety of delectable edibles. Beyond her evocative descriptions of paella antillaise and dried apricot clafoutis, Harris' absorbing, well-crafted novel is ultimately the story of a woman coming to terms with her past.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
If Harris's previous novel, Chocolat, was an adorably sweet morsel of French village lore, then this, her third, is a richer, more complex dessert wine. Still using her arsenal of culinary metaphors, quirky characters and slightly surreal incidents, Harris presents a complicated but beautiful tale involving misfortune, mystery and intense family relations. Framboise Dartigen, a feisty yet sensitive girl, grew up in a gossip-ridden hamlet on the banks of the Loire called Les Laveuses. Striving for attention and power, nine-year-old Framboise (or Boise, to her family) took to playing nasty tricks on her headstrong, mentally vulnerable mother, Mirabelle, who had a weakness for oranges. And it was not the usual affliction Mirabelle actually experienced "spells" (akin to epileptic fits) if she even smelled the fruit. But despite Framboise's girlish pranks, Mirabelle's maternal instinct was strong. When her children befriended German soldiers who were in the village during the World War II occupation, things went awry, and mother and children were forced to flee. As Framboise tells the tale, she's in her 60s and has returned to Les Laveuses, posing as a widow named Fran oise Simon. When the caf she owns is reviewed in a national food magazine, her cover is blown and the past resurfaces. Harris has constructed a multilayered plot, punctuated with scrumptious descriptions of French delicacies and telling depictions of the war's jolting effects on one fragile family. This intense work brims with sensuality and sensitivity. (May) Forecast: Given Chocolat's brilliant success in print and on screen, this book will have no trouble attracting attention. Whether the previous book's readers are ready for this more serious novel is questionable, however. Harris, who lives in England, will make appearances in six U.S. cities in early June. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Tragedy, revenge, suspicion, and love are the ingredients for the latest offering from the author of the acclaimed Chocolat. Framboise Dartigen recounts what happened in her tiny village of Les Laveuses during the German occupation and why after carrying the secret for more than 55 years she hid her identity upon returning. Beset by wartime privations, the people of Les Laveuses were a mixture of resistance fighters, collaborators, and financial opportunists. When a German soldier died mysteriously, townspeople were executed, and Framboise's mother was tortured and driven out by her neighbors, who believed that she had collaborated. Only her children knew the truth, and now Framboise, the sole survivor, has come back to claim the family farm and run a little cr perie featuring her mother's recipes. In the album she inherited from her mother are not only her recipes and mementos but also clues to what really happened so long ago. Like the oranges whose fragrance so tortured Framboise's mother, the ending is bittersweet, and readers will love it. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/01.] Susan Clifford Braun, Aerospace Corp., El Segundo, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Framboise Dartigen relates this story from her point of view as a nine-year-old and as a woman in her 60s. She spent her childhood in a Nazi-occupied French village with her widowed mother and siblings. Knowing that the scent of oranges brought on her mother's severe migraines, Framboise was clever enough or devious enough to hoard orange peel for her own advantage. During their unsupervised play, the children met a young Nazi soldier and were captivated by his charm and the black-market gifts that he gave them. Years later, Framboise, now a widow herself, returns to the village on a quest for the truth about her family's role in a tragic event for which her mother bore the blame and was forced by the townspeople to flee. Framboise inherited her mother's journal, and soon learns that the past and the present are intertwined. Harris has woven a dark, complex story of a dysfunctional family in stressful times. As in the author's Chocolat (Viking, 2000), mother and, later, daughter are gifted cooks whose love of food and cooking shows in the wonderful descriptions of bread, cake, fruit, wine, olives, etc. A picture of life in an occupied territory emerges in which collaborators, resisters, enemies, friends, and family members live in the same area, going about their daily routines. Harris's fans will not be disappointed; her attention to detail, vivid description, and strong characterization are all in this book, too.-Carol Clark, formerly at Fairfax County Public Schools, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
An overwrought and often contrived tale with one too many characters named after food. When elderly widow Françoise Simon returns to the sleepy village on the Loire where she grew up, she's grateful that no one recognizes her after all these years as Framboise Dartigen, daughter of a woman suspected of collaboration during WWII. Framboise sets up a small crêperie and keeps her silence, whiling away the time by studying the immense scrapbook her mother, Mirabelle, left to her. This crumbling but fascinating volume is crammed with recipes, clippings, and handwritten notes in a peculiar code, which she gradually deciphers. Framboise is forced to relive her own central role in the long-ago scandal as the youngest of three children who eagerly take small luxuries like chocolate and silk stockings from the occupying German soldiers, offering in exchange information that can be used to blackmail the villagers. Framboise befriends Tomas Liebniz, youngest and best-looking of the soldiers, and confides her desire to catch Old Mother, an enormous pike lurking in the depths of the Loire. He provides fishing tackle and advice, as well as a means of getting around her disapproving mother. Mirabelle suffers from excruciatingly painful migraines, which can be triggered by the scent of oranges. Tomas gives one to the nasty little girl, who saves the peel and uses its pungent smell to repeatedly incapacitate her mother. Only morphinenow impossible to obtaineases the pain, and despite her hatred for the Germans who shot and killed her husband, Mirabelle too turns to clever Tomas, who procures it for her. After his accidental death by drowning and a bloody shooting rampage byGerman soldiers, the Dartigens face the wrath of the townsfolk . . . . Harris (Chocolat, 1999) is capable of elegantly sensual writing, but Five Quarters degenerates into melodrama all too soon. Author tour
Read an Excerpt
When my mother died she left the farm to my brother, Cassis, the fortune in the wine cellar to my sister, Reine-Claude, and to me, the youngest, her album and a two-liter jar containing a single black Périgord truffle, large as a tennis ball, suspended in sunflower oil, that, when uncorked, still releases the rich dank perfume of the forest floor. A fairly unequal distribution of riches, but then Mother was a force of nature, bestowing her favors as she pleased, leaving no insight as to the workings of her peculiar logic.
And as Cassis always said, I was the favorite.
Not that she ever showed it when she was alive. For my mother there was never much time for indulgence, even if she'd been the type. Not with her husband killed in the war, and the farm to run alone. Far from being a comfort to her widowhood, we were a hindrance to her with our noisy games, our fights, our quarrels. If we fell ill she would care for us with reluctant tenderness, as if calculating the cost of our survival, and what love she showed took the most elementary forms: cooking pots to lick, jam pans to scrape, a handful of wild strawberries collected from the straggling border behind the vegetable patch and delivered without a smile in a twist of handkerchief. Cassis would be the man of the family. She showed even less softness toward him than to the rest of us. Reinette was already turning heads before she reached her teens, and my mother was vain enough to feel pride at the attention she received. But I was the extra mouth, no second son to expand the farm, certainly no beauty.
I was always the troublesome one, the discordant one, and after myfather died I became sullen and defiant. Skinny and dark like my mother, with her long graceless hands and flat feet, her wide mouth, I must have reminded her too much of herself, for there was often a tightness at her mouth when she looked at me, a kind of stoic appraisal, of fatalism. As if she foresaw that it was I, not Cassis or Reine-Claude, who would carry her memory forward. As if she would have preferred a more fitting vessel.
Perhaps that was why she gave me the album, valueless then except for the thoughts and insights jotted in the margins alongside recipes and newspaper cuttings and herbal cures. Not a diary, precisely. There are almost no dates in the album, no precise order. Pages were inserted into it at random, loose leaves later bound together with small, obsessive stitches, some pages thin as onionskin, others cut from pieces of card trimmed to fit inside the battered leather cover. My mother marked the events of her life with recipes, dishes of her own invention or interpretations of old favorites. Food was her nostalgia, her celebration, its nurture and preparation the sole outlet for her creativity. The first page is given to my father's death -- the ribbon of his Légion d'Honneur pasted thickly to the paper beneath a blurry photograph and a neat recipe for black buckwheat pancakes -- and carries a kind of gruesome humor. Under the picture my mother has penciled Remember -- dig up Jerusalem artichokes. Ha! Ha! Ha! in red.
In other places she is more garrulous, but with many abbreviations and cryptic references. I recognize some of the incidents to which she refers. Others are twisted to suit the moment's needs. Still others seem to be complete inventions, lies, impossibilities. In many places there are blocks of tiny script in a language I cannot understand. Ini tnawini inoti plainexini. Ini nacini inton inraebi inti ynani eromni. Sometimes a single word, scrawled across the top or side of the page seemingly at random. On one page, seesaw in blue ink, on another, wintergreen, rapscallion, ornament in orange crayon. On another, what might be a poem, though I never saw her open any book other than one of recipes. It reads:
like some bright fruit
plum peach apricot
It is a whimsical touch, which surprises and troubles me. That this stony and prosaic woman should in her secret moments harbor such thoughts. For she was sealed off from us -- from everyone -- with such fierceness that I had thought her incapable of yielding.
I never saw her cry. She rarely smiled, and then only in the kitchen with her palette of flavors at her fingertips, talking to herself (so I thought) in the same toneless mutter, enunciating the names of herbs and spices -- cinnamon, thyme, peppermint, coriander, saffron, basil, lovage -- running a monotonous commentary. See the tile. Has to be the right heat. Too low, the pancake is soggy. Too high, the butter fries black, smokes, the pancake crisps. I understood later that she was trying to educate me. I listened because I saw in our kitchen seminars the one way in which I might win a little of her approval, and because every good war needs the occasional amnesty. Country recipes from her native Brittany were her favorites; the buckwheat pancakes we ate with everything, the far breton and kouign amann and galette bretonne that we sold in downriver Angers with our goat's cheeses and our sausage and fruit.
She always meant Cassis to have the farm. But Cassis was the first to leave, casually defiant, for Paris, breaking all contact except for his signature on a card every Christmas, and when she died, thirty years on, there was nothing to interest him in a half-derelict farmhouse on the Loire. I bought it from him with my own savings, my widow money, and at a good price too, but it was a fair deal, and he was happy enough to make it then. He understood the need to keep the place in the family.