Joanne Harris’ Chocolat is a perfect book to read before Zombie Jesus Day. I’ve read it once before, during a Religion in Literature class about a decade ago. So I prepared for this read through by buying some Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (my favorite).
Chocolat is told in alternating voices by Vianne Rocher, a culinary witch, and Francis Reynaud, the curé of the small village of Landsquenet-sous-Tannes. Vianne and her daughter, Anouk, blow into town on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras) and set up a chocolaterie–much to the displeasure of Reynaud. Reynaud is a throwback to the old-school aesthetic style of Catholicism. He interprets everything Vianne does as an attack on the church and on himself. All Vianne is after is to bring some happiness to Landsquenet.
This isn’t a hard book to decipher, but it’s a lot of fun to read as Vianne rights wrongs in the village and Raynaud torments himself and tries to undermine her. Reynaud is more than a bit of a stereotype, though Harris give him some backstory to explain why he is the way he is. I was more interested in what I could pick up about Vianne’s past. She is clearly some kind of witch; Harris doesn’t hide the supernatural elements, though Vianne doesn’t do much with her abilities. She doesn’t need to, as she’s really just letting people know that a little bit of hedonism every now and then is not a bad thing. Meanwhile Reynaud views his flock is scornful terms, frequently thinking of them as stupid and weak. Even with the backstory, it’s very hard to view him with any sympathy.
The best part of this book is the food, obviously–that’s why I needed the Peanut Butter Cups. Vianne creates all manner of chocolates and candies, and a gloriously decadent feast for one of her regulars’ eighty-first birthday. I imagine that some readers will either get very hungry reading this book, or feel stuffed just from the descriptions alone. Books like this really make me wish that books about food came in scratch-and-sniff format.