Summary and book reviews of Chocolat by Joanne Harris

Chocolat

By Joanne Harris

Chocolat
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  • Hardcover: Feb 1999,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2000,
    306 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

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 ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  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...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

Premise, prose, and pace all march along capably, but they fail nevertheless to raise the whole above the debilities of heavy symbolism and excruciatingly precious plot.

Publishers Weekly

The battle lines between church and chocolate are drawn by this British (and part French) author in her appealing debut about a bewitching confectioner who settles in a sleepy French village and arouses the appetites of the pleasure-starved parishioners.... Vianne never quite comes to life, but her child, Anouk, is an adorable sprite, a spunky six-year-old already wise to the ways of an often inhospitable world. Gourmand Harris's tale of sin and guilt embodies a fond familiarity with things French that will doubtless prove irresistible to many readers.

USA Today - 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.

The New York Times Book Review - 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 Wall Street Journal - Kate Flatley

English-French author Joanne Harris's first U.S.-published novel, Chocolat, is as sweet, rich and utterly satisfying as a fine truffle. Dieters beware: Ms. Harris's lush prose drips with mouth-watering descriptions of cocoa confections that could melt even the most resolute of wills.

People Magazine, Megan Harlan

An irresistible confection....explores the struggle between good and evil...but ultimately celebrates...indulgence.

The Literary 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.

Reader Reviews
Denise

As delicious as the Book's Title
From the description of the mother and daughter coming into town on the north wind, I know I was in for a reading treat. This was the first I read by Joanne Harris and I've read every one of hers since then. Her writing and her characters are a joy.

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