The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris

ChocolatI read Chocolat by Joanne Harris in 2008 and loved it. Here’s an extract from my post at that time.

It’s the story about Vianne Rocher who arrives in Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, a place that is’ no more than a blip on the fast road between Toulouse and Bordeaux’ on Shrove Tuesday. She takes over the old bakery and transforms it into La Celeste Praline Chocolaterie Artisanale €“ in other words the most enticing, the most delicious and sensuous Chocolaterie, selling not only all sorts and types of chocolate treats but delicious chocolate drinks. Together with Anouk her daughter and Anouk’s imaginary friend Pantoufle the rabbit, she also transforms everyone’s life along the way.

It’s not just a story about a chocolaterie – it’s about fear of the outsider, prejudice against ‘these people’ €“ immigrants, vagrants, and gypsies; bigotry; fear of death, old age and illness; and fear that the Church will lose its purity and that the community will be corrupted by liberal and heretic beliefs. It’s also about how so many lives intersect and interact and above all about the importance of love and understanding in everyone’s life.

So, I had high expectations about the next two books about Vianne Rocher – The Lollipop Shoes (in the US this is published as The Girl With No Shadow) and Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé (in the US – Peaches for Father Francis). Maybe my expectations were too high because I was disappointed – neither book is as good, or as enchanting as Chocolat.

The Lollipop Shoes continues Vianne’s story four years later in Paris with Anouk and a second daughter Rosette. Blown there by the wind, Vianne now goes by the name of Yanne Charbonneau and Anouk, now eleven years old, is known as Annie. Rosette who is nearly four years old has an imaginary friend, a monkey called Bam. Yanne is now trying to live a ‘normal’ life, without using magic, trying to fit in with the people around them. However, her efforts are disrupted by the arrival of Zozie de l’Alba, the young lady with the shiny red shoes – the ‘lollipop’ shoes, Annie calls them. Zozie has no scruples and doesn’t hesitate to practise her own kind of magic, bewitching Annie with her spells and the power of her mind. Zozie’s magic though, is dark magic, evil and dangerous. She’s a stealer of lives and plans to take Vianne’s identity and make Annie her own.

As in Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, Yanne is living above a chocolaterie. This one in Montmarre is owned by Thierry le Tresset, ‘fifty-one; divorced, one son, a churchgoer, a man of rock’. He wants to marry Yanne, but she isn’t sure. Annie is having problems at school, fitting in with the other children and Rosette is a child living very much in her own world, she hardly speaks and communicates by signs. Is Bam just an imaginary friend or is there more to him?

This is really a story about good versus evil and where Chocolat was about the power of love, The Lollipop Shoes is about the strength and destructive power of evil. But there is something missing, there is no sparkle; it’s flat. The story is narrated by Annie, Zozie and Yanne and sometimes I found it difficult to decide which character was the narrator, and had to check the little symbol at the beginning of each chapter. Maybe it’s just me, because other people have really enjoyed this book – there are lots of 4 and 5 stars on both Goodreads and Amazon.

This book qualifies for two challenges – Mount To-Be-Read 2013 and Once Upon a Time VII (Fantasy).

Book Beginnings

Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé: I really shouldn’t be reading this book yet as I’m still reading Joanne Harris’s The Lollipop Shoes, the book that precedes Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé, but I just had to see how it starts.

This is the beginning (and the whole of Chapter One):

Someone once told me that, in France alone, a quarter of a million letters are delivered every year to the dead.

What she didn’t tell me is that sometimes the dead write back.

Well, that seemed so familiar – and it is because here is the opening sentence of The Lollipop Shoes:

It is a relatively little-known fact that, over the course of a single year, about twenty million letters are delivered to the dead.

I’ve had The Lollipop Shoes for nearly five years and have only just got round to reading it. I bought it when it came out in hardback because I’d loved reading Chocolat and wanted to read more about Vianne Rocher – my post on Chocolat explains my love of this book. So far, though, it just doesn’t have the same enchantment as Chocolat and it’s giving me uneasy feelings. I don’t want to say too much just yet as I’ve only read half the book – but one of the characters is definitely not ‘nice’, she’s dangerous and devious, out to  change Vianne’s world.

In fact, when I first looked at The Lollipop Shoes I found I didn’t want to read it – it’s so different in mood from Chocolat. So it went back on the shelf until this week, when I read Christine’s review of Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé and I knew it was time to read Joanne Harris’s books. It sounds as though  Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé is just as enjoyable as Chocolat and maybe not quite so dark as The Lollipop Shoes, because she wrote: ‘it’s the kind of novel I’ll turn to on a grey day, when the world seems against me, and I want my spirits lifting without having to think too deeply about anything’.

For more Book Beginnings on Friday see Gilion’s blog Rose City Reader.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

CelebrateTheAuthorJuly’s Birthday author is Joanne Harris (3 July), so I read Chocolat. There is so much more to this book than a simple story about a chocolaterie.

This is a fabulous book. I saw the film a few years ago (so I’ve forgotten the details) and loved that and amazingly the book is even better. I think for me that’s the right sequence of events if I’m going to see the film of a book at all – see the film, then read the book.

Simply told it’s a story about Vianne Rocher who arrives in Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, a place that is” no more than a blip on the fast road between Toulouse and Bordeaux” on Shrove Tuesday. She takes over the old bakery and transforms it into La Celeste Praline Chocolaterie Artisanale – in other words the most enticing, the most delicious and sensuous Chocolaterie, selling not only all sorts and types of chocolate treats but delicious chocolate drinks. Together with Anouk her daughter with her imaginary friend Pantoufle the rabbit, she also transforms everyone’s life along the way.

The story is told alternately by Vianne and Francis Renauld, the Cure of the parish. Renauld regards Vianne as the devil opposing everything he believes in and viewing her chocolate as sinful temptations designed to lure people away from the church. This is particularly provoking for him as it is Lent and the church is opposite the shop, open on Sundays and his parishioners are succombing to the temptations of Vianne and her shop.

In the weeks before Easter Vianne plans a grand festival of chocolate to take place on Easter Sunday. This infuriates Renauld:

To rail against a children’s celebration is to court ridicule. Already Narcisse has been heard to refer to my brigade anti-chocolat, amidst disloyal sniggering. But it rankles. That she should use the Church’s celebration to undermine the church – to undermine me. I dare not go further than this. And every day her influence spreads. Part of it is the shop itself. Half-cafe, half confisierie, it projects its air of cosiness, of confidences. Children love the chocolate shapes at pocket-money prices. Adults enjoy the atmosphere of subtle naughtiness, of secrets whispered, grievances aired. Several families have begun to order a chocolate cake for lunch every sunday; I watch them as they collect the beribboned boxes after Mass. The inhabitants of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes have never eaten as much chocolate. Yesterday Denise Arnauld was eating – eating! – in the confessional. I could smell it on her breath, but I had to maintain anonymity.

As the story progresses it becomes clear that Renauld has more than just a problem with Vianne. He is convinced of his own unworthiness and increases his Lenten fast in an attempt to cleanse himself. There is also something in his past which bothers him enormously. And he is not the only person in Lansquenet-sous-Tannes who has problems. Amongst others, there are Josephine, whose husband beats her up, Armande a diabetic in her eighties, whose snobbish daughter Caroline prevents her son from having any contact with her, and Guillaume a lonely old man struggling with the death of his dog, Charly. Vianne herself is fleeing from the ‘Black Man’, just like her mother did before she died. Into this mix of characters come the river gypsies and Roux causing even more angst for Renauld.

So, this book covers an enormous range of topics – fear of the outsider, prejudice against “these people” – immigrants, vagrants, and gypsies; bigotry; fear of death, old age and illness; and fear that the Church will lose its purity and that the community will be corrupted by liberal and heretic beliefs. It’s also about how so many lives intersect and interact and above all about the importance of love and understanding in everyone’s life.

Of course it’s also about food, and not just chocolate, although there are many descriptive passages extolling chocolate. The food at the party to celebrate Armande’s birthday includes:

Soupe de tomates a la gasconne, served with fresh basil and a slice of tartelette meridonle, made on biscuit-thin pate brisee and lush with the flavours of olive oil and anchovy and the rich local tomatoes garnished with olives and roasted slowly to produce a concentration of flavours which seems almost impossible. … vol-au-vents, light as a puff of summer air, then elderflower sorbet followed by plateau de fruits de mer with grilled langoustines, grey shrimps, prawns, oysters, berniques, spider-crabs … and a giant black lobster, regal on its bed of seaweed. … The dessert is a chocolate fondue … and dark-and-white- chocolate roulade bicolore. … We round off the meal with my own chocolate ice-cream, truffles and coffee in tiny demi-tasses, with a calvados chaser, drunk from a hot cup like an explosion of flowers.”

I judge a book by my desire to re-read it and to read more by the same author. This book passes both tests. I will have to re-read it to fully appreciate all its many layers and I already have The Lollipop Shoes waiting for me on my bookshelves. I believe it’s a sequel to Chocolat.