Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé by Joanne Harris

After I finished reading The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris I was in two minds about reading her next book about Vianne Rocher Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé, but as I’d reserved it from the library and spurred on by other reviews I decided to read it. I was hoping I would like it more than The Lollipop Shoes.

From the book jacket:

When Vianne Rocher receives a letter from beyond the grave, she has no choice but to follow the wind that blows her back to the village in south-west France where, eight years ago, she opened up a chocolate shop. But Vianne is completely unprepared for what she finds there.Women veiled in black, the scent of spices and peppermint tea, and there, on the bank of the river Tannes, facing the square little tower of the church of Saint-Jerome, like a piece on a chessboard – slender, bone-white and crowned with a silver crescent moon – a minaret.

 Nor is it only the incomers from North Africa that have brought big changes to the community. Father Reynaud, Vianne’s erstwhile adversary, is now disgraced and under threat. Could it be that Vianne is the only one who can save him?

My view:

Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé is a diluted version of Chocolat; it is too long and drawn out for the story line. It’s told from two viewpoints, that of Vianne and Father Reynaud, but I found that this resulted in too much ‘telling’, too much explanation and repetition. This means that the storyline gets padded out with too much detail. It became predictable and I wanted it to end before it actually did. I read on to the end because I wanted to know what happened. Although I hadn’t foreseen the detail I had foreseen the end.

I should like it more than I did, because it is so similar to Chocolat, covering many of the same themes: fear of the outsider, religious conflict, intolerance and prejudice, with issues of gender and race. It’s also about how people interact and how their lives intersect and above all about the importance of communication, love, and understanding and respecting the others’ point of view. But, the magic is missing for me.

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.