Chocolat by Joanne Harris


May 24, 2012 by Vicki

Have you ever read a book and something about the book just made you feel edgy? I have just finished reading Chocolat by Joanne Harris and, throughout the book; I could feel a rising tension. I still haven’t completely figured out why I reacted in this manner. The story is charming. The characters are delightful. Yet, all the way through I could not help, but feel uncomfortable.

Chocolat is the story of Vianne Rocher and her little girl Anouk who move into the little village of Lansquenet, in France. At the beginning of the story, Lansquenet is a conservative Christian village. Vianne and her daughter are travelling pagans who set up a Chocolate store at the beginning of Lent. Quickly, the town divides between those who support Vianne, and those who support the Church as represented by Father Reynaud.

Father Reynaud regards the chocolates, and indeed, Vianne, herself, as temptations that his flock have fallen for. As in Eat, Pray, Love, society informs us that the eating of food is a temptation. To enjoy food is a sin. Vianne, on the other hand, shows us that enjoying food reflects our enjoyment of life itself.

Chocolat also explores other human “weaknesses” and displays them as strength. Father Reynaud scolds one of the members of his flock for loving his dog too much. He cannot understand why or how a human being could place so much value in an animal. He sees it as a sin against God, to place an animal so high on your priorities. The reader, and Vianne, sees the love the character holds for the animal as a reflection of the love he has available, but has no one to share it with. His care and concern about his dog shows how wonderful a human being he actually is.

Chocolat also narrates how prejudice can set up barriers between human beings. Gypsies who live on riverboat arrive at Lansquenet, and immediately, the conservative members of the village start trying to force them to leave. Vianne, on the other hand, welcomes these strangers and becomes friends with them. Through her interactions, we learn the damage that prejudice has wrought on these otherwise loving and considerate human beings.

We, the reader, also learn how other societal conventions can damage the human psyche. Joséphine, a friend of Vianne, suffers through the abuse of her husband because she fears she has nowhere to go. Vianne opens her home to her and, eventually, she escapes. Despite, her increased happiness and blossoming character, Father Reynaud chastises her for leaving her husband. He knows of the abuse but still pressures her to return. Only through the continued presence of Vianne does Joséphine have the strength to ignore him.

So what can we, the reader, learn from Chocolat? Reading Chocolat forced me to ask myself, what (if anything) do I sacrifice for normality? Would my life be better if I risked being different? Could I encourage others to be free from negative situations? In the end, I learned that you cannot accept what others set down for you as the “norm.” You have to choose your own way and fight your battles as you go.

Please let me know what you thought of both Chocolat and my review. Did you have a different reading of Chocolat?  I look forward to discussing this with all of you. Also, please let me know if there is a book you would like me to review that is by women, for women and about women (or at least two out of three.) I would love to hear from you.

2 thoughts on “Chocolat by Joanne Harris

  1. RM Luffman says:

    “what (if anything) do I sacrifice for normality? Would my life be better if I risked being different? Could I encourage others to be free from negative situations? In the end, I learned that you cannot accept what others set down for you as the “norm.” You have to choose your own way and fight your battles as you go”

    This statement speaks to me on so many levels. I have yet to read the book (I’m working on fullfilling hte promise of reading all of your blogs, first), but this statement stirred me. Having grown up in a small town in the middle of God’s nowhere, and even, later, coming to realize that the ‘big city of Orillia’ where my folks hail from, is still a small town in spirit, it took me 2 decades to finally accept that what I needed to be in order to be true to myself was SO far off of what society expects of me. It’s taken me a very long time to get to the point where I’m finally taking my happiness into my own hands, but it is the most fullfilling journey I’ve ever embarked on.

    It is certainly those sacrifices that I’m having a hard time with. I’ve been moulded into the type of person that has been frequently described as a self sacrificing martyr. I’m putting a lot of effort into changing that reality.

    I hope that as I read through these blogs, and eventually, the books, I will find some new tools to use to help guide my journey of self descovery and self makeover.

    Let me close by quoting Rascal Flatts:
    I’ve lived in this place and I know all the faces
    Each one is different but they’re always the same
    They mean me no harm but it’s time that I face it
    They’ll never allow me to change
    But I never dreamed home would end up where I don’t belong
    I’m movin’ on

    • Vicki says:

      You may indeed get quite a lot out of reading Chocolate. I hope you can find what you are searching for both here in my blogs and in the world. I know “normal” isn’t, anymore and yet, we spend so much time trying to live up to it.

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