Vianne Rocher and her 6-year-old daughter, Anouk, arrive in the small village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes--"a blip on the fast road between Toulouse and Bourdeaux"--in February, during the carnival. Three days later, Vianne opens a luxuriant chocolate shop crammed with the most tempting of confections and offering a mouth-watering variety of hot chocolate drinks. It's Lent, the shop is opposite the church and open on Sundays, and Francis Reynaud, the austere parish priest, is livid.
One by one the locals succumb to Vianne's concoctions. Joanne Harris weaves their secrets and troubles, their loves and desires, into her third novel, with the lightest touch. There's sad, polite Guillame and his dying dog; thieving, beaten-up Joséphine Muscat; schoolchildren who declare it "hypercool" when Vianne says they can help eat the window display--a gingerbread house complete with witch. And there's Armande, still vigorous in her 80s, who can see Anouk's "imaginary" rabbit, Pantoufle, and recognizes Vianne for who she really is. However, certain villagers--including Armande's snobby daughter and Joséphine's violent husband--side with Reynaud. So when Vianne announces a Grand Festival of Chocolate commencing Easter Sunday, it's all-out war: war between church and chocolate, between good and evil, between love and dogma.
Reminiscent of Herman Hesse's short story "Augustus," Chocolat is an utterly delicious novel, coated in the gentlest of magic, which proves--indisputably and without preaching--that soft centers are best. --Lisa Gee, Amazon.co.uk
From Publishers Weekly
The battle lines between church and chocolate are drawn by this British (and part French) author in her appealing debut about a bewitching confectioner who settles in a sleepy French village and arouses the appetites of the pleasure-starved parishioners. Young widow Vianne Roche's mouthwatering bonbons, steaming mugs of liqueur-laced cocoa and flaky cream-filled patisserie don't earn her a warm welcome from the stern prelate of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes. In Francis Reynaud's zeal to enforce strict Lenten vows of self-denial, he regards his sybaritic neighbor with suspicion and disdain. Undaunted, Vianne garners support from the town's eccentrics, chiefly Armande Voizin, the oldest living resident, a self-professed sorceress who senses in Vianne a kindred spirit. A fun-loving band of river gypsies arrives, and a colorful pageant unfurls. The novel's diary form?counting down the days of Lent until Easter?is suspenseful, and Harris takes her time unreeling the skein of evil that will prove to be Reynaud's undoing. As a witch's daughter who inherited her mother's profound distrust of the clergy, Vianne never quite comes to life, but her child, Anouk, is an adorable sprite, a spunky six-year-old already wise to the ways of an often inhospitable world. Gourmand Harris's tale of sin and guilt embodies a fond familiarity with things French that will doubtless prove irresistible to many readers. Rights sold in the U.K., Germany, Canada, Sweden, Holland, Spain, Italy, Finland, Denmark, Brazil, Israel, Norway, Greece, the Czech Republic, Poland.
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