Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Chocolat by Joanne Harris.

I feel that by now, everyone except me has seen the movie version of Chocolat. But maybe you haven't read the book. Maybe you're even less in touch with popular culture than I am and have never heard of Chocolat. So I shall post.

I didn't get into this book immediately. Something about the tone threw me off. It was a little too bold; it took itself a little too seriously; the periods somehow fell too heavily. By the sixth chapter I figured out part of what the problem was--a lack of contractions. "I have heard" instead of "I've heard." A lack of contractions will usually make you sound one of three things: clunky, overly formal, or pretentious. Not even academic papers use contractions anymore.

It wasn't just contractions though, there was just something affected about the tone. And the author switched between past and present tense unnecessarily.

But all that aside, I really enjoyed this book. No, really. I just like to complain. I just like to warn people about inappropriate contraction use. The bane of the English major.

Anyway. Chocolat. Vianne Rocher and her daughter abandon their nomadic life and attempt to settle down. They choose a little town in France in which to forge a new life. And their new life involves chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate. They open a chocolate shop, to be exact. But this little French town isn't sure about having a chocolate shop. Lent just started. Eating chocolate during Lent is surely a sin. It's decadent. And there's something too carefree, too lively about that Vianne Rocher. She doesn't seem to feel any guilt or worry about being an unwed mother. And, between you and me, I think she's a witch.

It's a charming book. It hosts many delightful characters: six-year-old Anouk and her imaginary friend Pantoufle; the gypsy Roux; 80-year-old Armande, tough as nails and with a predilection for red lingerie.

I like the paganism running through the book. (Paganism, read: Wicca.)* I like the understated feminism. This could easily have been a book where settling down and forging a new life meant Vianne finding the love of her life and getting Anouk a father. But it isn't that kind of book. Vianne and Anouk do not in any way require nor desire a man in their lives. This is a kind of book I admire, a book that appeals to the mainstream while quietly challenging the status quo.

And of course, there's the chocolate. Truffles. Mocha. Nipples of Venus. Marzipan. Amandine. Sugar mice. Candied fruit. I fully allowed myself to indulge in all sorts of chocolate while reading this book. Spicy hot chocolate. Cake for breakfast. I've even got Christmas candy left.

This is a chocolatey feel-good book. I recommend it.

*When I said the word pagan to someone a few weeks ago, he was thoroughly confused. Wicca just made him more confused. If you don't know what either paganism or Wicca is, Wikipedia it.

1 comment:

  1. Well of course now I have to read the book.

    I've watched the movie, oh, about a thousand times. I own it. Sometime we could watch it together.