From Publishers Weekly
In the first American release of her 1994 second novel, Chocolat, author Harris dives headlong into a ferocious Gothic ghost story. Henry Chester, the son of a stern Oxford minister and his unapproachable wife, develops an unhealthy interest in virginal young girls and a chloral habit after a life-altering experience during puberty. A gentleman artist of independent means, he disguises his unsavory sexual preference in his painting, frequenting lower class neighborhoods in search of models. On one trip, he encounters the hauntingly beautiful, fatherless Effie .She spends more and more time with Henry as model and protégé, and, despite a 23-year age difference, they marry when she's 17. Soon Effie becomes pregnant then miscarries. Though Henry keeps her drugged with laudanum, Effie eventually falls for Moses Harper, a rival painter and ne'er-do-well. Harper in turn introduces her to Fanny Miller, the occultist madam of a brothel that Henry frequents; she mothers the fragile Effie, and this trio cultivates a scheme to deal the despicable Henry a loaded hand. The pages fly by through multiple plot twists in a wash of drugs, ghosts and illicit sex in a tale that easily ranks among the best of the genre.
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First published in 1994 but never before published in the U.S., Harris' debut novel displays the author's versatility. From this creepy little gothic thriller, Harris has progressed to such different genres as the love story Chocolat
(1999), the historical-suspense novel Five Quarters of the Orange
(2001), and the cookbook-memoir My French Kitchen
(2003). Classic in tone, the story begins with a mediocre Victorian painter's vision of capturing the innocence of childhood on canvas; then it creeps inexorably into the dark realms of psychological terror as Henry Chester's mad desire reveals itself. Tension mounts when his child model grows up and becomes his wife, molded by his will, drugged into submission with constant doses of laudanum. He visits a whorehouse, she dares an affair--no one is without a dark side. Harris explores the facets of twisted love and betrayal as she introduces macabre characters in bizarre circumstances, including a young ghost and a middle-aged prostitute-witch with a vendetta against Chester. This seemingly straitlaced Victorian household-turned-madhouse makes the gang at Manderley in du Maurier's Rebecca
look tame in comparison. Jennifer BakerCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved