I thought this book was going to be wonderful - a cross between 'A Year in Provence' and 'Charlie And The Chocolate Factory', perhaps! It was a really original idea: single Mum arrives in French village and opens marvellous 'chocolaterie', to the delight of the residents and the horror of the local priest. However, the writing was a total let-down. Most annoyingly, the author changed tense constantly (in the middle of paragraphs and pages), as if she couldn't quite make her mind up about whether to stay in the present or set the scene in the past. Also, none of the characters, (with perhaps the exception of the priest), came alive for me. I just couldn't believe in them and therefore didn't care about them. The book's heroine, Vianne, was just too good to be true. Within 3 days of arriving in the village, she had befriended half the residents, completely renovated an old bakery, received all the supplies for her 'chocolaterie' (from where! ) and opened for business! In the course of the book she effortlessly solves everyone's problems, has perfect, passionate sex, comes to terms with her own (rather confusing) 'demons' and still manages to produce the most exquisite confectionery and be a perfect mother to her daughter. She is the original Wonderwoman! And if you want 'magical realism', read Angela Carter, Barbara Trapido or Kate Atkinson - 'Chocolat' didn't do anything for me!
Joanne Harris writes beautifully and, without being a great creator of character, does engender feeling in the reader for her characters. I enjoyed the development of a feeling for the small French town and each chapter was a pleasant read. However, the plot is Manichaean in setting up the hypocritically puritanical priest against persecuted but magical travelling types and while demonstrating the ahistorical irrationality of the claims of the Roman Catholic church, the author seems fairly accepting of the virtues of Jungian archetypes and, of all things, Tarot cards, which have a rather recent occult history and primarily appears to 'work' because of the relatively few number of cards in play. The author attacks one form of obscurantism only to promote another.
i so looked forward to reading this book but was very disappointed with it,it does kind of compare and contrast the pagan and the catholic,and yes, there is magic, but it does not pull together at all. Update-First time in my life I just found out that the film so much more entertaining than the book!
Considering the amount of hype that has surrounded "Chocolat" I found that it really did not live up to my expectations. Perhaps the ideal book for a tourist in France, it seems to present a slightly twee image of a rural village with all the stereotypical characters (eccentric misunderstood old lady, overbearing husband complete with battered wife, well meaning outcast, newcomer eager to be accepted by village and precocious child of single mother) you could expect. I found "Chocolat" was very "nice" but thoroughly unremarkable. The characters were uninvolving and by the end of the novel I was not remotely interested in what happened to them. "Chocolat" is really not worth going out of your way to read.