Most of my close friends, and indeed some of my not-so-close acquaintances, will, at some point, have been a victim of my Joanne Harris campaign. In previous posts I’ve touched upon my tendency as a reader to demolish entire back catalogues of writers whose work I enjoy, and Joanne Harris is certainly no objection to the rule.
I still remember where I was when I first bought perhaps Harris’s most acclaimed novel. Having been given some HMV vouchers for Christmas, I made my way to the far right corner of the store where they stocked a small selection of books. Enticed by the front cover – this particular one bore a picture of Johnny Depp – there was also a quote from the Literary Review underneath the blurb: ‘Is this the best book ever written?’ it asked; and so I made a hasty purchase.
Chocolat is set in a fictional French village in Southern France, which immediately lends and atmospheric and evocative air to the book. It tells the story of Vianne Rocher and her six-year-old daughter Anouk, who, upon arriving in Lansquenet-sous-Tannes set up a Chocolaterie. It being the beginning of Lent, such is greeted with heavy disapproval by the local priest, who sees it as a provocative move. While initially much of the village treated Vianne with a level of polite hostility, she soon wins them round with her winning combination of charm and decadent delights.
A simply delicious tale, Chocolat appeals to all the senses as Harris’s descriptive style of writing brings alive an insular French village from a bygone era. Fusing romance, religion, temptation and sin, this magical novel is beautifully written and truly deserves its accolade as one of the best books ever written.