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on September 16, 2001
War is hell, as we all know, but the last word on that still hasn't been said. Now Joanne Harris gives us a book that exposes the ugliness of war from the viewpoint of three neglected children, living in a German-occupied French village during World War II. In "Five Quarters of the Orange," narrator Framboise Dartigen unfolds a chilling tale in which she and her two siblings find themselves collaborating with Nazis, trading secrets about their neighbors for chocolate and comic books.
The great strength of "Five Quarters of the Orange" is Harris' unflinching honesty about childhood--its capacity for treachery and cruelty. Graphic images of Framboise's war against the life of the nearby river underline this theme. After a village girl is bitten and killed by a venomous snake, Framboise nets a dozen snakes, crushes their skulls and leaves them to rot on the river banks.
At the heart of the novel, as in the novelist's early work "Chocolat," is a complicated relationship between mother and daughter. Framboise's mother Mirabelle mistakenly applies the same techniques to child rearing that she applies to growing fruit trees. Prune them severely and they will flower. She discovers too late that children don't respond well to constant scolding and deprivation.
Mirabelle is also plagued by olfactory hallucinations. Prior to her terrible migraines, she thinks she smells oranges. In scenes which make the book worth reading by themselves, Framboise gets revenge on her mother by planting a cut up orange near the stove so that the scent fills the house. These scenes of nine-year-old vindictiveness are where Harris reveals her true genius.
"Five Quarters of the Orange" isn't just another war novel, however. It's also a mystery. Why does Framboise disguise her identity when she returns to her childhood village after an absence of 50 years? A scandal hangs over her head from that earlier time, so many decades ago. A scandal so flagrant she is sure she would never be accepted back into her community if they knew exactly who she was. This unknown scandal, which is gradually unfolded through flashbacks, provides most of the novel's suspense.
To dwell only on the horrors of "Five Quarters of the Orange" would be to do the book an injustice, though. Though Harris' genius shines most truly in her portrayal of how war compromises even the innocent, this book is also rich in charm and whimsy--the same kind of graceful good humor that made the author's previous book "Chocolat" such a big hit and the subsequent movie so well reviewed. Scenes of the grotesque give way to moments of gentle slapstick.
People who are tired of conventional treatments of the elderly in literature will especially enjoy the episode in which the elderly Framboise and her aging neighbor get the better of a 20-something hoodlum terrorizing Framboise's creperie. Their shared triumph sparks an autumnal romance that cannot fail to delight even the most cynical readers. Even for someone like Framboise with skeletons in her closet, it's never too late to make a clean breast of things, never too late to fall in love.
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on June 29, 2001
Not since To Kill a Mockingbird have I read such an effective book written from a child's viewpoint. Five Quarters not only captures this age but this age in a certain time and place. You can almost smell the lavender and mint. You can almost taste the mouth-watering recipes Framboise and her mother prepare.
Five Quarters actually has several viewpoints, all from the same character, Framboise. We enter her mind as a nine year old child during the war in France and as a middle-aged widow returning unknown to her birthplace. Finally we enter her mind as a sixty-four year old woman making peace with the past and falling in love. This is a prodigious feat for any author to pull off. While not having reached all these ages yet I still received a strong feeling of what it would be like at that point in life.
The story itself is riveting and the book is one of the few that I have read recently in one sitting. There are villains and heroes, but neither are comic book characters. There are multiple nuances to every main character in the book so you cannot pigeonhole any one of them. The second world war and its effect on a small village in France, and specifically one family, is the main story. There is a mystery here to be unravelled slowly, and savored as the children savored the forbidden oranges of the title. While not exactly a story of the war its presence, in the form of German soldiers, is the catalyst for events that affect the village for generations.
A very enjoyable and thought provoking book. I cannot wait to read Ms. Harris' other novels.
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on June 10, 2001
Harris' newest novel is darker and more complex than either Chocolat or Blackberry Wine. The story--the reminiscences of elderly, embittered Framboise Dartigan--explores the events that shaped her childhood and her village during the German occupation of France.
On one level it's about the naive wartime collaboration of children and its consequences, but more importantly it's an exploration of mother-daughter relationships and how they shape the lives of multiple generations. This is a theme Harris first dipped into in Chocolat, but here the events and the emotions are sharper and more raw, and ultimately more revealing.
As with her two most recent novels, food and wine are woven into the story. The discovery by Framboise of her mother's cookbook, with its secrets and emotions never revealed during her mother's life, is the vehicle that forces her to confront and to put to rest the events that have dominated her life.
Harris continues to amaze, and Five Quarters is clearly her most fully realized writing. Though I found myself disliking Framboise more than a few times, the story has a depth and feeling that is hugely satisfying. Don't miss it.
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on June 18, 2007
Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris contained a mystery that kept me reading until I finished the book in just 3 nights. Harris wrote the book like the main character Framboise was just sitting around telling a childhood story to a friend over coffee. Reading the story, I felt comfortable as "Framboise's friend" and enjoyed her tale of adolescence. In the beginning of the story, Framboise casually tells us "I know, I know. You want me to get to the point... It has taken me fifty-five years to begin. At least let me do it in my own way." Harris' use of details and descriptions helped to paint of vivid picture in my mind of Framboise's childhood. I liked the way Harris described Framboise's older sister Reine-Claude in comparison to Framboise, "At twelve, my sister has already ripened. Soft and sweet as dark honey, with amber eyes and autumn hair... next to her I looked like a frog, my mother told me, an ugly skinny little frog with my wide sullen mouth and my big hands and big feet." The book describes the conflict of mother and daughter relationships. Harris shows that no matter how badly we don't want to end up like our parents, we can't help but to inherit some of their qualities. Framboise's mother tells her nine year old daughter "Hard as nails... I used to be like that...I always wanted to fight everybody too." When the older Framboise is stressing about her declining business while her daughter and granddaughter were departing from their summer visit, "I could see in her eyes that she felt I was unreasonable, but I could not find enough warmth in my heart to tell her what I felt... a sudden terror overwhelmed me. I was behaving like my mother... Stern and impassive, but secretly filled with fears and insecurities. I wanted to reach out to my daughter... but somehow I couldn't. We were always raised to keep things to ourselves. It isn't a habit that can be easily broken." Harris also details what it is was like to live in Nazi occupied France. We read about this time period in history books but it was eye-opening to see this from the perspective of the families who lived through this period of change and uncertainty. She writes about the German soldiers going to people's homes to take their food and prized possessions. Even when the families tried to hide their belongings, the German soldiers still found and took what they wanted. I also liked how Harris hinted at upcoming events at the ends of chapters to keep the reader interested in the story.
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on September 19, 2001
I liked "Chcolat" and therefore it was with anticipated pleasure that I began this book. It is quite well written, and the characters are well defined, and there is the pleasures of childhood in the French countryside all nicely laid out before us. But it isn't long before the allure of the story gives way to its much darker nature. There are the broader themes of the WW2 French resistance and German collaborators interwoven with the childhood memories, and how our heroine, now an elderly widow, strives to remain anonymous in a town that still despises her family because of its involvement in these matters so long ago.
It is this darkness that makes me give this book 3 stars when I might have rated it higher. The idyllic childhood is nothing of the sort - the children are neglected by their ailing widowed mother, and they quickly become infatuated with the Germans and the thrills of being involved with them in what they think is harmless fun, but secretly know to be otherwise. Our heroine is actually quite a spiteful and manipulative little girl, and although she interseperses her memories with pity for her mother, this doesn't take the edge off that spite. And even though our heroine improves with age, the current day characters of her nephew and his wife take on that continuing unpleasant role.
The novel also takes its time getting to the truth that is the core of that darkness and the reason our heroine wishes to remain anonymous. When I finally got there I was almost beyond caring about it, and I was frankly disappointed that I was able to work out what happened even before the event finally was revealed. What should have been the most suspenseful part of the book fell way short of expectations.
So all in all this was a novel that had a fascinating and complex idea, dealing with issues that are still sensitive today. However, it somehow misses the mark, and whereas it was an interesting and quite well written read, it left me feeling vaguely uncomfortable, and I'm not sure whether or not I enjoyed it.
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on May 7, 2001
Five Quarters of the Orange, Joanne Harris' newest novel, is enchanting and captivating. I have been a fan of Harris since reading the amazing Chocolat and the haunting Blackberry Wine. Her new book is about what happens to a family in France during the German occupation of World War II. The story is told from the point of view of the main character, Framboise. Harris deftly weaves the voices of nine-year-old Framboise, who is in the midst of the action, and 64-year-old Framboise, who is remembering what occurred and preparing to reveal old secrets. Harris' recipe for rich, satisfying writing is evident in Orange, as it is in her other novels. Strange and awful things happen, but Harris enfolds them in the rhythms of life lived close to the earth, making them seem natural and inevitable. I loved this book for the same reason I have loved all of Harris' novels. She tells a compelling story through realistic, complex characters, but it is the power and beauty of her writing that keeps me coming back for helping after helping.
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on May 7, 2001
In Five Quaters of the Orange, Joanne Harris blends history, personal tragedy, perserverance, and ultimately triumph, to produce a book rich with characters and events. From the first few pages, Harris had me wanting more, setting the stage for a long personal journey and tale to unfold.
At times the narrative was confusing, switching from the past to present so quickly that I had to turn back a few pages to get my bearings. Ultimately Frambroise proves to be a solid and trustworthy narrator, bringing us not only into her external world, but into her confused heart and mind as well.
Overall, it was a good read with characters that are well-developed and interesting.
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At 64 years old, Framboise returns to the French village of her birth--- a village she, her brother Cassis, sister Reine-Claude and their mother left as disgraced exiles during the German occupation of France. Enbittered by the events that took place that year she was nine years old, she hopes against hope that the village will not connect the froggy-faced little girl with the grandmotherly woman she has become. Luck is with her---she purchases the old farm where she once lived and by utilising her mother's mouth watering recipes found in an old scrapbook, she opens a marvelous creperie, popular with both the locals and vacationers alike. When her food is reviewed by a famous culinary critic, her weak nephew and his ambitious wife, also restauranteurs, slither in, questioning her owneship of her mother's scrapbook, desiring its recipes for their own failing big city endeavor. Furious, Framboise refuses, triggering an attack meant to destroy the success of her creperie and simultanoeuly reveal the secret that has shamed and haunted her for her entire life.
Ingeniously woven throughout the modern story is Framboise's first person account of her ninth year. Harris' style is fast-paced; her revelations are amply yet masterly metered out to keep the reader thoroughly entranced until the last page. The book is not overly long, yet Harris manages to finely draw her characters: Mirabelle, the migraine suffering mother, Tomas,the sly Black Market manipulator, Paul, the one person in the village that recognizes Framboise, and Framboise hersef, strong and bright, ever the leader, not realizing what her cleverness will orchestrate.
I found this novel much more interesting and entertaining than Harris' other popular novel Chocolat; the format seems more complete--the structure more satisfying and the ending neatly tying up all fragments and substories. Like Chocolat, it is a novel meant to be read with a fine glass of red wine and a square of good European dark chocolate. Harris' food descriptions utterly tantalize, her knowledge and love of food is evident in the way in which she allows her characters to safely emote through the food they create when they are unable to facilitate speech or gesture. After 'sampling' some of Mirabelle's culinary delights, I admit to purchasing a book on how to make homemade cordials!
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on March 11, 2002
Years after WWII Framboise Simon buys the dilapidated family farmhouse from her brother, fixes it up, and later, opens a creperie. But we soon learn that Framboise is drawn to this house and this previously Nazi occupied French village perhaps to come to terms with her dark and secretive past. Knowing that her maiden name will perhaps provoke unrest in the little French village, she goes by her married name and is careful not to reveal knowledge of past village events. She builds a good business serving food from her deceased mother's combination recipe album/diary. Then her devious relatives decide they would like the album, too, and Framboise is forced to face the past-a past which started with one taboo and escalated into betrayal of neighbors and, ultimately, village tragedy. A past which Framboise can only clearly understand through her mother's album.
The first couple paragraphs of "Five Quarters of the Orange" were intriguing and gripping. It then went into a lull and I actually wondered if I wanted to finish, as the main characters are very unsympathetic (but unfortunately realistic). Framboise's mother is dour and outwardly seems to care more for her orchard than her children. Framboise herself, suffering from the loss of her father and her mother's harsh demeanor, coldly devises a way to induce her mother's migranes so that her mother will retire to bed, leaving the children to do as they please. After about 60 pages however, a plot development got me hooked, and from then on the pages flew.
"Five Quarters of the Orange" is artfully written much like a movie. It's not a script, but I can easily imagine it as a movie with little modification to the plotline or characters, thanks to Joanne Harris' vivid descriptions.
Fans of the movie "Chocolat" might be a little surprised, as this novel is much darker. It does not hesitate to detail the ugly side of human nature and of life itself. It does, though, have the same style, complete with sensuous descriptions of food. Overall, it's painted in somber tones, but like a potent cup of coffee, just because it tastes bitter doesn't mean that we don't' like it.
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VINE VOICEon February 23, 2003
Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris
Here is another wonderful book written by Joanne Harris that had me reading non-stop til the very end. As with CHOCOLAT, Harris places this story in France, but unlike CHOCOLAT that had elements of fantasy sprinkled in, FIVE QUARTERS OF AN ORANGE was more grounded in reality.
Sixty-ish Framboise Simon is trying to rebuild a life for herself in the little French village where she grew up in before and during WW II. It is difficult, as memories of her childhood continue to haunt her, memories that her children know nothing about. The story is told in flashbacks, where she talks about her family's involvement with the Nazi officers that were living stationed in her area of France. She as a child, along with her brother and sister, were very involved with the officers, not realizing the consequences of their actions. They spent their days trading with the Germans, and Framboise was secretly in love with one soldier in particular, Tomas, who she had secret fantasies about. In her new life, her neighbors do not know who she is, for if they did they would probably have her run out of the country. Instead, they know her only for her delicious baked goods that she sells out of her shop. She is a harmless old woman.
The story is cleverly told, and is a much more complex novel than Chocolat. The themes of betrayal of one's country and family relationships are intertwined, as we learn about Framboise's interesting past. Her relationship with her mother is dealt with the most, explaining why Framboise turned out the way she did. What I loved most though is Harris' fascination with food, and how she seems to find a way to bring it into the story line! I highly recommend this book, as it was one of my top 20 reads of 2003.
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