I first read Chocolat by Joanne Harris in 2001. I remember it so well because it was the book I took on my honeymoon. Back in those days there was no social media and more often then not a book would be chosen by simply browsing in a book shop or Library. Even now, that is something I still get great pleasure from. The cover is always the first thing I notice when I go into a bookshop. The displays may be there to entice me with prominent positioning and ‘Books of the Month’, but it’s the the cover image that will call out to me and prevent me from walking on by. Although I have only a very vague recollection of buying Chocolat, I know that it was purchased at the airport as I browsed amongst the shelves whilst awaiting our flight.
It was the paperback version but still had the glorious purple cover which sparkled with magic and images of golden eggs. ‘Try me…test me…’ read me… I have to admit I’m not sure of I had seen the film at this time but I feel that the book came first for me although that may simply be because I have read it so many times. As our flight took off on route to New York I began a journey to Lansquenet.
I leant that first copy of Chocolat, purchased all that time ago at the beginning of my own exciting journey, to a friend. Unfortunately both the friend and book are now long gone but when I realised it would not be returning to me I searched online for another edition with the same cover. I found a small hardback first edition which I now treasure. Sadly the friend was not so easy to replace but like that lost paperback I will always have a place in my heart for her.
So now nearly eighteen years later I am thrilled to return to the village of Lansquenet and the characters that found their way into my heart. Of course I have returned many times before, repeatedly with Chocolat and also with The Lollipop Shoes and Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé, but there is something wonderful about a new story. The turning to the first page, not knowing where it will take you. Even so, these characters have meant so much to me over the years that I was slightly nervous as to what may now hold for them.
The Strawberry Thief
Everyone is different. Some of us are just more than others…
Vianne Rocher has settled down.
Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, the place that once rejected her, has finally become home. With Rosette, her ‘special’ child, she runs her chocolate shop in the square, talks to her friends on the river, is part of the community. Even Reynaud, the priest, has become a friend.
But when old Narcisse, the florist, dies leaving a parcel of land to Rosette and a written confession to Reynaud, the life of the sleepy village is once more thrown into disarray. The arrival of Narcisse’s relatives, the departure of an old friend and the opening of a mysterious new shop in the place of the florist’s across the square – one that mirrors the chocolaterie, and has a strange appeal all of its own – all seem to herald some kind of change: a confrontation, a turbulence – even, perhaps, a murder…
This is a very welcome return to Lansquenet and it’s inhabitants. I have missed their stories, the smell of chocolate and the whispering of the wind. This time the story focuses on Narcisse, Reynaud, Rosette and a mysterious new visitor to the town. A visitor who brings change, something that Vianne fears. What do I remember of Narcisse from the earlier books? Not a great deal. He ran the flower shop, was kind to Roux and offered him work when others turned their back and he didn’t see eye to eye with the local Curé. Yet I felt a sadness when he died, that feeling you get when you wished you had gotten to know someone better when they were alive. He was always in the background, just out of sight.
Upon his death he leaves a wood to Rosette. It is a place that is incredibly special to her in a way that only Narcisse understands. Yet that very action causes anger and mistrust amongst his surviving family. They are suspicious of his motives and eager to see the confession he left behind. But the confession is for the eyes of Reynaud only. His old adversary and someone who has more in common with him then he thinks.
Right within the very heart of the story, Vianne remains fighting to keep her family together. Constantly on guard of the wind and what it might bring… or take away. Narcisse’s death brings with it a mysterious stranger to the town of Lansquenet, a stranger not unlike Vianne herself. Yet the wind begins to blow and stirs up hidden danger, accidents and an unknown force that threatens to tear apart her carefully protected life.
As always I fall into Joanne’s story with ease, returning to Vianne’s life is like a warm hug or a soothing cup of hot chocolate. Her writing is beautiful and as I read I can hear each syllable resonating through my head. I imagine the audio books are wonderful too, like listening to an old friend.
If you have yet to discover these books then I would recommend starting at the beginning with Chocolat. Of course it’s not vital but I do think you’ll get so much more from the stories. I think it’s time I returned there too, back to the beginning and with the hope that before too long we may return there again for another new story.
Other recommended books by Joanne Harris
What if you could bottle a year of your past? Which one would it be? Which time of year? What would it smell like? How would it taste?
These are the questions which began Blackberry Wine: the second volume of my “food trilogy” and the story of Jay Mackintosh, a writer of pulp fiction with one literary success to his name and a dwindling grasp of reality. Trapped between an unresolved past and a humdrum present, suffering from writer’s block and the beginnings of alcoholism, Jay has lost his bearings.
But the accidental discovery of six bottles of home-brewed wine, a legacy from an old and vanished friend, seems to hold the key to a new beginning, a means of escape, and a final reconciliation. For there is something magical about this wine; something which brings the past to life, an agent of transformation. Under its influence, time can work backwards and the dead return to life – as Jay finds, when, on impulse, he gives up his glamorous London lifestyle and escapes to a half-derelict farmhouse in a remote village in Gascony, where two mysteries await him; a ghost from the past whom no-one else can see, and Marise, a reclusive widow with ghosts of her own…
Published in 2000, Blackberry Wine is another favourite of mine that I return to again and again.
The Little Book of Chocolat by Joanne Harris and Fran Warde
Try me…test me…taste me…
Joanne Harris’s Chocolat trilogy has tantalised readers with its sensuous descriptions of chocolate since it was first published. Now, to celebrate the much-loved story of Vianne Rocher’s deliciously decadent chocolaterie, Joanne Harris and Fran Warde have created the ultimate book of chocolate lore and recipes from around the world, bringing a touch of magic to your kitchen.
This is a stunning recipe book filled with incredibly mouthwatering recipes. Now THIS would make the perfect Easter gift.
Joanne is currently busy with a book tour to coincide with the publication of The Strawberry Thief. Visit Joannes website here for more information and to see if she will be coming to an event near you. I am very much looking forward to seeing her talk at the Chiddingstone Literary Festival in May.
You can also follow Joanne on Twitter at @Joannechocolat
Thank you for taking the time to visit Tales Before Bedtime today. Joanne Harris is a writer of enormous versatility and writes in many genres. Which of her novels is your favourite?
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