Five Quarters of the Orange: A Novel

Five Quarters of the Orange: A Novel

by Joanne Harris


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When Framboise Simon returns to a small village on the banks of the Loire, the locals do not recognize her as the daughter of the infamous woman they hold responsible for a tragedy during the German occupation years ago. But the past and present are inextricably entwined, particularly in a scrapbook of recipes and memories that Framboise has inherited from her mother. And soon Framboise will realize that the journal also contains the key to the tragedy that indelibly marked that summer of her ninth year. . . .

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061214608
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/02/2007
Series: P.S. Series
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 207,223
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.76(d)

About the Author

Joanne Harris is the author of seven previous novels—Chocolat, Blackberry Wine, Five Quarters of the Orange, Coastliners, Holy Fools, Sleep, Pale Sister, and Gentlemen & Players; a short story collection, Jigs & Reels; and two cookbook/memoirs, My French Kitchen and The French Market. Half French and half British, she lives in England.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

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:

This sweetness
like some bright fruit
plum peach apricot
watermelon perhaps
from myself
this sweetness

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.

Reading Group Guide

When Framboise Simon returns to a small village on the banks of the Loire, the locals do not recognize her as the daughter of the infamous Mirabelle Dartigen -- the woman they still hold responsible for the terrible tragedy that took place during the German occupation decades before. Although Framboise hopes for a new beginning, she quickly discovers that past and present are inextricably intertwined. Nowhere is this truth more apparent than in the scrapbook of recipes she has inherited from her dead mother.

Using this book, Framboise recreates her mother's dishes, which she serves in her small creperie. And yet as she studies the scrapbook -- searching for clues to unlock the contradiction between her mother's sensuous love of food and often cruel demeanor -- she begins to recognize a deeper meaning behind Mirabelle's cryptic scribblings. Within the journal's tattered pages lies the key to what actually transpired the summer Framboise was nine years old, when the Germans occupied their town.

Rich and dark, Five Quarters of the Orange is a novel of mothers and daughters, of the past and the present, of resisting and succumbing.

Discussion Questions
  • Framboise's mother loved all fruit -- except for oranges, which gave her migraines. Young Framboise exploited this to her advantage. Discuss Framboise's motivations. Was she cruel, or just acting on the impulses that often drive adolescents to commit cruel acts?

  • How did you feel about the children's involvement with Tomas? Were they morally deficient? Do you think that the author judged the children's actions anywhere in the narrative? Discuss how the presence -- or lack -- of judgementaffected the tone of the novel.

  • How is the title, Five Quarters of the Orange, manifested in the structure of the novel?

  • What do you think Old Mother symbolized? When Framboise finally caught Old Mother, what did she lose?

  • Why do you think Framboise returned to Les Laveuses? Was there a part of her that wanted the truth revealed?

  • "Food was her nostalgia, her celebration, its nurture and preparation the sole outlet for her creativity" (pg 4). Framboise said this about her mother's relationship with food. Discuss the many different roles food plays in Framboise's life.

  • How did you feel about the mixture of love and animosity that Framboise and Mirabelle feel for each other? And what about the relationship between Framboise and her own daughter? What do you think the novel says about mothers and daughters in general? About the Author: Joanne Harris is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Blackberry Wine, Five Quarters of the Orange, and Chocolat, which was nominated for the Whitbread Award, one of Britain's most prestigious literary prizes. Half French and half British, Harris lives in England.

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    Five Quarters of the Orange 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 98 reviews.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Harris has done it again--pulled some extraordinary writing out of ordinary lives during WW II German occupation of France. "Boise" is just 9 years old, but wise in some ways, childish in others as she tells the story of a mother hindered by migraines which can be triggered by the smell of oranges. (The recipes tucked into the story make your stomach growl!) The child dreams of catching the monster pike that lives in the river and devices some devilish means to catch the big one! But in so doing, tragedy occurs, again! Harris' characters come alive in full color; she can craft a delicious story. This is a real page-turner.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    My husband bought me this book and I kept it on the shelf until I ran out of other books to read. Shame one me....this was surprisingly wonderful. All of the characters were wonderful. I enjoy books where characters are both good and bad....just like the real world. I could empathize with all of the characters and why they did the good things and bad things. It also has a twist that makes you want more....even when it's over.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    She's done it again, but this time a little darker. Readers expecting the same fairytale quality as Chocolate might be initially disappointed, but as they read on they find that Harris challenges and surprises them with a tale rich in layers and satisfaction.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I would highly recommend this book. It is a sad but intriguing story and beautifully written.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    While her debut novel, Chocolat (1999), was delicious and followed by the ripely seductive Blackberry Wine (2000), Joanne Harris's third offering, 'Five Quarters Of The Orange,' is bittersweet and tangy. When 65-year-old Framboise Simon returns to the small French village of her birth she is unrecognized by the townspeople who a half century earlier, during the German occupation, had branded her family as ignoble traitors. With a menu composed largely of her mother's old recipes, Framboise open a small café. These recipes have been kept in an album, the repository of many memories and thoughts. When the café becomes popular and is discovered by a food writer, Framboise's brother, Cassis, appears on the scene with his son and daughter-in-law in tow. They want the album the mother, Mirabelle, kept so they can produce a cookbook, and profit by making public secrets long hidden in the family's past. As a child Framboise had been befriended by a young Nazi, Tomas Leibniz. The confused girl had been swayed by his attention, and lavish gifts. Was it so easy to almost unknowingly become an informer? The album will eventually reveal a trove of untruths and deceptions. Ms. Harris once again dots her narrative with lyric descriptions of the French countryside as she weaves a mesmerizing tale.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    The story and characters bring back to mind the dreams and hazards of growing up. The inability to ask for help is still an issue today.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Amazingly written, highly recommended, page turning book about a nine year old , living in a Nazi occupied France. However, the story is not about the war but more of a life of people in a small village in France
    Hernibs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    My all time favorite. Set in modern France,part of th ebook flashes back to World War II.Absolutely fascinating! Her best in my view.Even better than Chocolat.
    michelebel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    As a Francophile, I read Joanne Harris' "Chocolat" years ago and was disappointed in the rather ordinary depiction of French life in what seemed to me like a book written with an eye on film rights. "Five Quarters of the Orange" is a darker book, better-researched than "Chocolat" and with an accurate portrayal of life in and near Angers in the Loire Valley during German occupation in World War II. The story is told from the viewpoint of a nine-year old girl, Framboise, and follows her family, her older siblings Cassis and Reinette and their neurotic mother through the difficulties of living a rural village life under occupation (one really irritating point for me was the names of the family characters - all named after fruits or nuts). The gossiping and the enmities amongst the villagers are very real, with the hypocrisies concerning collaboration with the Germans highlighting the difficulties that the French must have experienced as they sought to stay alive. It is not really a 'coming-of-age' novel, despite the gradual sensual awakening of Framboise, but there are elements of the pain and loss that growing older brings. The story faltered when recounting the rather silly dispute between the adult Framboise and her nephew - it wasn't needed and slowed the pace. But Joanne Harris has an easy style and her descriptions of the countryside are evocative. There were enough 'secrets' to make the climax gripping and disturbing.
    verenka on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I found this book at a book sale and bought it because I really enjoyed "Gentlemen and Players" by the same author. I recently gave up on a book by her that was completely unlike Gentlemen and Players and this one seems to be right in between the two books.I had already started to wonder if there are two different authors of the same name.Five Quarters of the Orange has elements of both books - the mystery buried in the past, hinted at and slowly, very slowly revealed of G&P and the almost sensual stories about food and cooking and french countryside of Blackberry Wine. Add forbidden love and coming of age and you have a beautiful book, that manages what few do: to have an interesting storyline both for the present and the past.
    cestovatela on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    This is my very favorite kind of book -- the kind where watching a compelling character grow and change is the essence of the plot. More than anything, I wanted to unravel the mystery of the main character's bitterness and find out who she would become at the end of the novel. It's rare for a dark book to naturally arrive at a hopeful ending, but this one manages it well -- one more feature that makes it unique and outstanding.
    Greatrakes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    The story of Framboise (Boise) Dartigen and her childhood in Occupied France and the secrets it held. A story partly about childhood and how the world of the child and the world of the adult are light years apart although existing in the same place and time. The German who befriends the Dartigen children becomes an ally in a world enemy adults, the old teacher they betray is a member of the resistance but to them just an interfering adult. No one is heroic and everyone just tries to get by.Less of a mystical air to this book than Chocolat, but plenty about the food of France.
    tjsjohanna on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    This is a powerful and moving book about tragedy and redemption (at least I think so!). I'm always amazed at novels where children set in motion such catastrophic events. We like to think of children as being innocent - and they are by virtue of their inexperience - but boy, can an innocent do some horrendous things without even realizing it. I enjoyed the structure of this novel - a story within a story - and thought it was done well.
    bks4maggie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Interesting book, tho I found the main character not likeable at all. Very good in audio!
    ValerieAndBooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    `Five Quarters of the Orange¿ is about memories, although mostly unpleasant ones. The setting takes place along the Loire river in France. During World War II, Framboise Simon, the protagonist, grew up in a small village there. She has returned after several years but changed her identity. Events occur that threatens to expose to the villagers who she really is. Framboise goes back and forth between the modern day and recalling incidents during the war.The book¿s title is based on the fact that Framboise¿s mother suffers from migraines; one trigger is the smell of oranges. Framboise purposely brings orange peels in the house so that it incapacitates her mother. In doing so, while her mom is sick abed all day, Framboise (nine years old at the time) is able to make visits to a German soldier. Her brother and sister are accomplices; they do this to receive favors such as candy and movie magazines in exchange for providing information on the villagers. Of course, things are bound to end badly. This novel looks at what one village and their residents might have gone through during German occupation of France. It was hard for me to understand how Framboise could resort to some of the things she did ¿especially towards her mother (even though her mother was very unlikeable) but I suppose wartime brings out desperate measures by people. It can also cause children, like Framboise and her older brother and sister, to grow up too fast and do things they might not normally do in more peaceful situations.Framboise says about her emotions felt during childhood:¿I can¿t expect you to understand how I felt. It sounds grotesque to me too, remembering how it was, wondering whether this is not another false memory¿.Of course, it might have been shock. People experience strange things under the effects of shock. Even children. Especially children, the prim, secret savages we were.¿The tensions between the characters in this story kept me reading. I felt it was a good book; but the focus is more about the mother-daughter relationship rather than a place during a certain time.Joanne Harris is also the author of ¿Chocolat¿, which I read years ago (around the time it came out as a movie starring Johnny Depp). Since these novels, she has written more ¿ including a sequel to ¿Chocolat¿, which is called ¿The Girl With no Shadow¿. I should pick the sequel up at some point.
    jonesli on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I found this book to be a very engrossing read. Set in a small French town, the protagonist, Framboise Simon refects on her past life as a nine year old farm girl(during World War II) and her present life as a sixty five extremely bitter woman.I was fascinating with the character development in this story, Framboise (Boise) was an extremely cruel child and hateful older woman. Although the character never had any redeeming qualities, I wanted to know her story. I wanted to know about each family member's secrets, what happened with the German soldier, and most importantly, what happened the summer of Boise's ninth year.Add the many food references to this wonderful book and it makes for an excellent read.
    ViaLys on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    A brilliantly unfolding story told from the frozen bitterness of the childhood without affection of a 9 year old farm girl in a rural French town, less rather than more Occupied by the conquering Nazi. Treating the pattern of the girl growing into the mother with sensitive brutality, this coming of age tale unravels the truth of the infamous retaliation for the death of an officer.
    christinelstanley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Great story, beautifully written. Another triumph from Joanne Harris
    jcwlib on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Framboise Simon returns to the village where she grew up but not as her true identity. Memories of a German soldier who was killed there haunts her. As she reads through a book of recipes her mother left her, she begins to figure out different pieces of the puzzling memories. This book is told as a remembrance of events in the past by Framboise to her adult daughters and one time lover. The memories highlight how German soldiers would gain trust of the locals to gain information during the war. The oranges referenced in the title refer to the orange slices Framboise would use to cause her mother to get migraines. These migraines would allow Framboise and her siblings to play and explore unsupervised. This book was well written and went between the present day and the past seamlessly. I like how food was interwoven into the plot as well.
    Nickelini on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    This was a pretty quick and entertaining read. What I liked were all the food elements (even though the fruit 'n' nut character names were a bit much). All the talk of French cooking really made me want to come home and pull out my French cook books. What I didn't like: there was a tone to some parts of the book that was cold and impersonal. I'm not sure I empathized with the main characters as much as the author wanted me to.Recommended for: Readers who like books set in rural France. Harris captured that feel very well.
    madamejeanie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Sixty-three-year-old Framboise Dartigen returns incognito to the tinyFrench village where she lived as a child, in order to confront ahorrific tragedy that occurred 55 years earlier during the Germanoccupation -- a tragedy that implicated her family and still haunts thetown to this day. Back then, while her widowed mother struggled to makea living from her fruit farm, Framboise and her siblings befriended aGerman soldier who provided them with treats in exchange for tidbits ofinformation. Then a seemingly innocent series of events snowballed intoa horrifying tragedy -- the truth of which is hidden (mingled withhundreds of family recipes) in a scrapbook her mother has bequeathed toher. Now, as that truth is about to surface, Framboise must exposepainful family secrets and face the facts of her own complicity.Harris is the author of "Chocolat" which is light and magical anddelicious. "Five Quarters of the Orange" is much darker, but told withthe same finesse. There is little humor in this book, but it's afascinating dissection of tortured minds, people struggling to leadnormal lives in extraordinary times. It is told rather dispassionately,though, which is my only complaint. The story is a bit too drawn out, Ithink. An interesting book. I'll give it a 4.
    JusNeuce on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Joanne Harris' masterpiece; bittersweet but excellent
    vastard on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Five Quarters of the Orange is a beautiful novel. It tells the story of Framboise, an older woman who moves back to the rural French village that she lived in as a child during WWII. Two intertwined narratives develop: one story shows the horrifying events that the young Framboise witnessed and became part of when the village was under German occuption, while the other tells of Framboise's struggles as she returns to a town that has not yet forgotten or come to terms with its past. The book is captivating, with deeply believable characters and a delightful element of mystery.
    neverlistless on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    This is the story of a woman (Framboise) who owns a restaurant (of course, Joanne Harris and her food books!) in France who was a young girl during WWII and when the German soldiers were patrolling the area. The premise of the story seems to be that the girl's mother gave information to the soldiers and was ran out of the village in shame. Framboise went back to the village as an older woman (with a different last name) and kept her identity a secret and opened a very successful restaurant. It flashes back and forth from current times to when she was a little girl - and we learn more and more about the truth of the story. love reading books set in WWII and this one has really hit the spot for me.This book really moved me - I think many of us can remember back to when we were young and to that summer when our lives completely changed forever. How strong young love is and feels - and how that connection and memory can truly last into adulthood. Especially when the end of that relationship is so terribly tragic.
    gribeaux on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Nicely dark, this one. Not horror, but a bit shivery. I really enjoyed it.