Cannonball Read IV: Chocolat by Joanne Harris
As much as I like the movie, I never even realized it was a book until recently. Harris has written a sequel (actually, a third novel in a series now) to Chocolat, and the fact that the novel is related to Chocolat has naturally been prominantly printed on all the copies of Peaches for Father Francis. Since I was so used to the idea of this novel as a movie, it was of course rather difficult to separate the two while reading the novel.
For the most part, the movie is an incredibly faithful adaptation of the novel. I mean, Johnny Depp doesn't have red hair, and the novel has a darker undertone than the movie ever reached, but other than that, and the addition of one small subplot in the film (the dog owner does not start a late in life romance in the book, unfortunately), it was basically the same story.
My view may have been influenced by the film in this as well, but the novel seems incredibly timeless. When reading about life in a small village in France, dealing with changes and outside influences, it is so easy to imagine the story taking place in the '50s or '60s, but later, it becomes clears that the novel is in fact set in a much more modern time frame given references to certain technology.
For anyone that hasn't seen the film, the novel tells the story of Vianne Rocher and her young daughter Anouk who move to a small village at the beginning of Lent and open a chocolate shop. Vianne soon gets on the village priest's radar who believes that she is a bad influence due to the fact that she doesn't go to church, and that her chocolates are an unwanted temptation during Lent season. While it seems like the novel covers a much longer time period, it actually takes place between Lent and Easter.
While the priest, Francis Reynaud, discourages the community from visiting her, her friendly attitude and spirit attract many of the villagers, especially the outcasts, that have not felt welcomed by the unbending piety of Reynaud. This includes Guillame, an elderly retired man who is incredibly attached to his aging dog; Armande, an old woman who refuses to go to church, is in a bit of a feud with her daughter, and has knowledge about the priest that no one else remembers (portrayed by Judi Denche in the film); and Josephine, a kleptomaniac whose husband beats her, something that the community laments but ignores. There are a few other villagers as well, but these are the main ones that develop friendships with Vianne. In addition to their disagreement about chocolate and Lent, the priest and Vianne also challenge each other in their treatment of the boat people or "gypsies" that pass through the village.
The chapters alternate between Vianne and the priest's perspectives. Just like the movie, the novel doesn't completely villanize the priest, but shows him as someone who feels his way of life threatened, and based on their preconceived notions, Vianne and Francis do occasionally misinterpret each other's intentions. Still, the film version of the priest was more sympathetic (I'm sure the actor had something to do with that as well). Also, while the film implies that there is something magical about Vianne and her daughter, for the most part, they are simply treated as having a different, more bohemian life style. The novel straddles this line as well, but gives more credence to the idea that Vianne is a witch. Certainly her mother (there is a lot more back story in the novel) believed that she was a witch even if Vianne chose to focus on a more material type of life, and chose to make chocolates and foods rather than spells.
I definitely enjoyed the novel, and look forward to reading the rest of the novels in the series, and exploring the rest of the author's books. I'll also definitely watch the movie again soon - since I'd already seen the film, I was imagining all the actors in the novel. They really did get a great cast for the film adaptation.
For more of Jen K's reviews, check out her blog, Notes From the Officer's Club.
This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it.
(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the amazon.com affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)