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Ratings and reviews for Chocolat: A Novel

Ratings and reviews for Chocolat: A Novel
based on 221 rating(s)
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Price: $16.00 $10.24 (36% off)
Author(s): Joanne Harris
Release Date: 1/1/2000
Binding: Paperback
Number of Pages: 336
Studio: Penguin Books
Manufacturer: Penguin Books
Dewey Decimal Number: 823.914
Product Group: Book
Edition: Other Printing
Sales Rank: 77042
Description: Even before it was adapted into the Oscar-nominated film starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, Joanne Harris' New York Times bestselling novel Chocolat entranced readers with its mix of hedonism, whimsy, and, of course, chocolate.

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.
ISBN: 0140282033
UPC: 0140282033

Reviews 1 to 10 of 221
Pageof 23
amazon logo IT'S A SHAME
It's a shame when a bad book like this earns undeserved praise and attention and other, better-written books are virtually ignored. The basic idea of Chocolat (good versus evil) is always interesting, even if a bit overdone, but Harris's execution of that idea leaves more than a little to be desired. Vianne Rocher, a mysterious new arrival in the small southwestern French village of Lansquenet, is far to vague to be "good," and Father Reynaud, the village priest, and the author's representation of evil, is really only a tormented soul, one to pity rather than hate. The battle between Vianne and Reynaud is completely lacking in tension and momentum and the story soon becomes nothing more than an extensive exercise in extreme boredom. The other characters are just as poorly developed and actually come off as cliches. Armande, who could have been delightful, under the guidance of a more talented author, was reduced by Harris to a caricature of an elderly, stubborn, persnickety old woman, used to getting her own way. While she could have been lovable, had she said, "Whee," one more time, even I would have felt like punching her in the face, eighty-one years old notwithstanding. The character of Josephine was so overly-melodramatic she was nothing more than silly and earned my contempt rather than my pity. Much of the book is vague. The author seems to delight in being coy with us and coyness in the service of plot or characterization is never good. Another thing that I found jarring was the fact that Harris constantly switched from present to past tense with no rhyme or reason. Other, better and more experienced writers, make a choice, so should Harris. It could only serve to improve her prose and she does need to improve it. Harris leads us on a merry goose chase, making us believe there will be a huge, climactic showdown between the Church, as personified by Reynaud, and a pagan Festival of Chocolate, as personified by Vianne. However, all this buildup only leads to one huge letdown, as Reynaud simply caves in and the chocolate festival is barely mentioned. Finally, as a 100% Frenchwoman, myself, with a home in a small French village, I found the scenes of French village life to be 95% inaccurate. I got absolutely no sense of "Frenchness" from this book at all and found it totally lacking in atmosphere. It is a shame this book made it past an editor, much less to publication. Chocolat will leave a bitter taste in my mouth for the short time I care to remember it.
59 of 75 people found this review helpful.
In an accomplished fiction debut, Chocolat, English author Joanne Harris offers an intriguing modern day morality tale laced with a soupcon of sorcery. The combatants in this deliciously different take on the eons old tug-of-war between good and evil are a young woman, the daughter of a self-proclaimed witch, and a platitudinous curate.

As she struggles to find her place in the world and he equivocates to protect dusty tradition, they vie for the hearts and loyalties of some 200 French villagers, inhabitants of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, "no more than a blip on the fast road between Toulouse and Bordeaux."

Ms. Harris displays an original voice in perfect pitch as she depicts the cowed, affection starved townspeople. Her meticulous character imagery is telling: Francis Reynaud, the guilt-ridden parish cure' with his cold eyes and "the measuring, feline look of one who is uncertain of his territory;" the 81-year-old Armande Voizin "with a smile that worked her apple-doll face into a million wrinkles;" and the venal wife-beater, Muscat, who struts "stiff-legged like a dog scenting a fight."

Vianne Rocher and her six-year-old daughter are wanderers. They arrive in Lansquenet on Shrove Tuesday, where their appearance is greeted with veiled curiosity by villagers who "have learned the art of observation without eye contact." Battle lines are drawn when Vianne opens La Celeste Praline, a gaily decorated confectioner's shop on the town square, directly across from the austere St. Jerome's church overseen by Pere Reynaud.

It is Lent, the priest has decreed abstinence, deprivation. Yet, Vianne's shop is a "red-and-gold confection," her window a proliferation of truffles, pralines, Venus's nipples, candied fruits, hazelnut clusters, candied rose petals, all there to tempt Reynaud's parishioners. He sees it as a disgrace, a degradation of the faith, and eventually preaches against Vianne from his pulpit.

When a band of gypsies moor their colorful houseboats at the village's small harbor, the prelate asks them to leave. Vianne welcomes them, further infuriating Reynaud. Weakened by his self-imposed Lenten fasts, he denies his hunger and watches her shop with "loathing and fascination" as he begins plotting to rid Lansquenet of what he believes is her evil influence.

One of Vianne's staunchest allies is a kindred spirit, the elderly Armande, the village's oldest inhabitant who delights in reminding Reynaud "of things best forgotten," and dares to invite the gypsies to remain as her guests. At times fearful of the consequences, Vianne turns to her mother's cards, seeking an answer in augury. Nonetheless, she stands her ground, even making plans for a "Grand Festival Du Chocolat" on Easter Sunday. It would be a celebration with games in the square and a riot of sweets in the shop. But Reynaud sees it as an affront, an excess, he would have "The egg, the hare, still living symbols of the tenacious roots of paganism exposed for what they are."

Wisely compressing her provocative narrative to the days between Shrove Tuesday and Easter Monday, the author uses impeccable pacing in leading to Reynaud's final assault, an effort to destroy the festival and Vianne along with it.

A surprising yet fitting denouement caps this deftly told tale of lust, greed and love. Francophiles will be drawn to the evocative descriptions of daily village life, while gourmands revel in the mouth-watering descriptions of chocolate preparation. All will relish the skillful pen of Joanne Harris. Chocolat is to be savored.

55 of 58 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo I feel sick.
I'll say the good points of this book first. The bare bones of the story are original, and you probably won't be able to predict the end. The description is also pretty good, and Harris switches from Vianne's to Renaud's viewpoints neatly and creates realistic voices for the two characters.
This book is prejudiced and shallow. All the people on Vianne's side are wonderful, kind, sensible and interesting. All the people on Renaud's side are evil, cruel, vicious, pretentious and/or violent. Why couldn't we have had some Christians who wanted to worship yet liked chocolate? Or some chocolate-lovers who were mean?
I totally lost sympathy for Vianne after she slept with Roux. This seems a completely unnecessary plot twist. She had no intention of forming a relationship with him - her only excuse is that now she has another child who will grow up loving "life on the road." Considering she herself, as well as Anouk, has felt lost and rootless sometimes I wonder that she's so confident about bringing another child into such a situation.
The final conflict with Renaud was also poorly handled. His motivations and background were set up throughout the book and then at the end he just left, his story unresolved and his beliefs held in contempt. There was no proper resolution. Also I felt sorry for him and actually liked him a lot more than Vianne!
I find this book offensive to Christians, prejudiced and one-sided in its views and characters, and overall tiresome. I don't recommend it unless you are (a) anti-Christian (b) very, very into chocolate or (c) bored.
22 of 50 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo Pure mouthwatering escapism
I don't think I've ever read a book quite like Chocolat before. The plot is fairly simple: Vianne Rocher, a wanderer with a young daughter, arrives in Lansquenet on Shrove Tuesday. Something about the village appeals to her, despite the looming presence of the Black Man, the local priest, and she decides to stay. Taking the lease on an old bakery directly across the road from the church, she opens a chocolaterie.

A chocolate shop. In *Lent*! Thus Vianne arouses the fury of Reynard, the priest, while at the same time gradually seducing many of the townspeople one by one with the delicious smell and taste of chocolate, and her uncanny ability to divine everyone's 'favourite'. Does Vianne have some sort of supernatural powers? Can she read minds? Harris never completely answers that question, but then the first-person narrative allows Vianne to reveal only as much as she wishes, and she herself rejects any suspicion of such abilities. And yet the Tarot cards are still ever-present, as are the strange dreams and visions.

Reynaud, the priest, whose own first-person narrative takes up about a quarter of the book, is another fascinating character. Overly self-righteous and determined to be in control of everything in the village, he takes immediate exception to *Mademoiselle* Rocher and her chocolaterie, and sees it as his mission to wean his flock away from her. But he has secrets as well, some of which are suspected by the old woman Armande (another fascinating character).

As Harris takes us inexorably towards Easter, it's clear that some sort of confrontation is coming between the old habits and the new, the dull darkness of conformity and the glad brightness of joy, and the priest and the chocolate-woman. But exactly what form does it take? You'll have to read for yourself.

Oh, and don't forget to savour the secondary characters: Vianne's daughter Anouk, Armande, Guillaume and his beloved dog, Josephine the kleptomaniac who is married to a drunked wife-beater, Roux the proud gypsy and many more.

43 of 46 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo .......and they cut down a tree for this?
I truly regret wasting time reading this ...coz spare time is something I don't have much off. I've read picture books designed for toddlers...that have more of a plot than this book did.
28 of 45 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo Chocolat is good for you
If you're caught in a bit of twix, with nothing to read, then may I suggest this excellent bounty? It is produced, not by Mars of Slough, but Joanne Harris of Barnsley, a chef who excels in the art of couverture chocolate. Step into her boutique, 'La Celeste Praline', and you'll be caught unawares by her classy wares. Chocolat is a novel of great sweetness, perfect for those who like their confictionary to be well milked. For readers with richer palates, however, Harris has also produced an intoxicating blend of dark chocolate, which is - dare we say it - extremely 'topic'al. If you're looking for a few delightful snickers, and not a lengthy marathon, then this is the novel for you. It's certainly richer and more exquisite than the most popular currency of chocolate bars.

Vianne Rocher arrives in the French village of Lansquenet during its carnival, a feast before the fast of Lent. With her is daughter Anouk (who seems to be named after a chocolate treat), and Anouk's companion, the mysterious Pantoufle. Joanne Harris tends to write a lot about alchemy in connection with cooking (see her excellent new novel, 'Blackberry Wine'), but Vianne Rocher would seem to have more than culinary skills at her disposal... This is especially apparent, though, in her delicious meeting with Armande Voizin, to which there is more than meets the eye. 'Pantoufle' refers to Charles Perrault's fairy tale of Cinderella, and as such, could be a subtle hint as to Vianne's true identity... It would seem appropriate here to compare Harris' work with that of Kate Atkinson, especially with regards to her new book, Emotionally Weird. Atkinson says that she has been trying to write a fiction with all the richness of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. But it seems to me that Joanne Harris is more adept at writing fairy tales - her characterisation is stronger, certainly. Whilst Atkinson plays with words, Harris plays with thoughts and emotions. Chocolat is full of magic and fairy tales, from the realisation of a true Gingerbread house, to Vianne's use of Pagan cards and charms.

It is holy appropriate then, that the conflict and drama within this novel stems from the masculine Church's opposition to Vianne Rocher and her culinary work. It even seems that that Joanne Harris could be engaging on a narrative in which God the Father and Mother Earth are the main combatants, featuring their eternal struggle as man and wife. Father Reynaud is the country priest who sees danger in Vianne's shop, and the novel is narrated in the first person by both of these antagonists. Reynaud relates his tale to the mysterious pere, whilst Vianne muses greatly on her long lost mother, with both 'parent' appearing to be flawed in some way. However, this struggle between the masculine and the feminine does not become too abstract, since Josephine Muscat has to bear the bruises in her role as battered wife. Chocolat has its fair share of romance, but also contains a swift punch of brutal reality.

Like Blackberry Wine, Joanne Harris has decided to serve some home truths, along with the after dinner mints. The novel deals with thorny issue of immigration, currently a hot potato in Britain, and the problems of a population which is growing ever older. The Pope's recent apologies for the crimes of Roman Catholicism also resound within. These issues may be set in the exotic French countryside, but they still have relevance to us. Okay, so the richness of the carnivalesque and the mystique of magic realism have been added to the mixture, but their presence only serves to add depth, and never confusion. Vianne has a reluctance to see her fate in the stars, but this novel has won near universal admiration and is soon to be made into a film. It's a fiction which works on so many different layers, but like a particularly rich cake, there is something within it for everyone. The author uses simple words in her prose, but the combination of these coarse ingredients is explosive. Harris certainly knows how to play on our heartstrings, to make us feel for her characters.

Current medical advice would certainly indicate that Chocolat could play a powerful part in reducing stress and lowering cholesterol. It's potent mixture: a benign, yet provoking stimulant which melts on the tongue. As for its aphrodisiac qualities, well, I can hardly say... But the only disappointment to be had from Chocolat is that it has to end.

29 of 35 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo It Just Didn't Ring True
I found the characters and especially the setting in this book just did not ring true. As a resisdent of a small French village in the Luberon, I think Harris's book seems far more English than French. My advice to her would be to stick to writing what she knows...England!
26 of 33 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo Flat-out yummy!
What happens when an out-of-towner moves into an old-fashioned, quaint French village, opens up a chocolate shop across the street from a church during Lent, and charms most of the neighborhood with her delicious treats, easy-going manner, and her eerie talent for being able to read minds? Well, it ticks the priest off for one thing...

...which then begins an all-out war between church and chocolate, good and evil, saints and sinners. Father Francis Reynaud doesn't take much to outsiders coming into his community who do not believe in God, practice pagan rituals (most specifically Easter in the Easter bunny sense), and who tempt his parishioners with sinful chocolate at the beginning of Lent. Reynaud refers to the arrival of Vianne Rocher as a single dandelion spreading her seeds, and soon the whole town turns upside down with all sorts of goings-on.

Joanne Harris writes with a skillful, intelligent hand. Sometimes the sentences have to be read twice (what with the big words and all), but the text is pure poetry. This novel builds slowly and takes readers on a magical carpet ride. Definitely recommended to those who enjoy a sweet and sad story, a not regularly written about topic, and a writing style that's beautiful in it's symbolism, clarity and description.

28 of 30 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo Chocolat leaves a bad aftertaste
I was prepared to like this book, but from the very start, it practically bludgeons you over the head with its message that, "if it feels good, do it." The book pits the free-spirited, attractive, heroine against an uptight, cruel, and (eventually) psychotic village priest in a bizarre battle over a chocolate shop. Inevitably, all the sympathetic characters immediately side with the beautiful newcomer who revitalizes the town, while the gossips and wife-beaters side with the priest. The author clearly has something against organized religion in general, Catholicism in particular, and goes to great lengths to convince the reader to share her feelings. The ending is absolutely ridiculous, and left me deeply annoyed at the fact that I had actually wasted my time on this drivel.
14 of 27 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo A Sweet Treat
I don't think it would be possible to speak about this luscious morsel of a book without breaking into confectionary prose. I found the dual narrative of the agitated and judgmental Reynaud and the tranquil and accepting Vianne both effective and delicious and the author's ability to evoke the smells and textures of the chocolate shop mouthwatering. Despite its fairy tale quality, Chocolat is very much grounded with themes -- confronting personal demons, living in an unaccepting society, the consequences of unpopular choices -- that affect us all. I'm pleased that Ms. Harris's next novel is to include the same supporting cast of villagers. While many are peripheral to the main plot, the author has developed their characters so well that I'm glad I'll have the chance to learn more about them --and satisfy my senses at the same time!
23 of 26 people found this review helpful.

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