Chocolat (1999)

by Joanne Harris

Vianne Rocher, daughter of a witch and maybe a witch herself, arrives with her six-year-old daughter in a small French village at the start of Lent. A drifter, Vianne decides to stay put for a while and opens a chocolate shop right across from the Catholic Church. The priest, unpleasant and plagued by guilt, is incensed that his parishioners might be lured away from their Lenten penances. Vianne (or is it her chocolate?) does seem to have bewitching effects on some of the villagers. An abused wife leaves her husband; a teenage boy has the courage to defy his mother and visit the grandmother of whom she disapproves.

When Vianne plans a chocolate festival for Easter Sunday, Christianity's holiest day, Père Reynaud has had enough. A showdown is inevitable.

Chocolat is a well-written, pleasant read, but why it received over-the-top accolates is a mystery. The plot unfolds predictably, and there are few surprises or big insights. Perhaps its appeal is its main message: that self-indulgence can be good for you.


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