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.