Drowning In The Magic Of Chocolat: A Delectable Summer Read

Looking for a great book to devour during these warm summer months? Dive into Chocolat, a novel filled with colorful characters and delicious chocolate treats!

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The literary world holds quite a few hidden treasures. While this one gained a movie adaptation of its own alongside critical praise, it is one of those novels that humbly awaits any curious readers. Joanne Harris’s Chocolat was published on March 4, 1999. It tells the story of Vianne Rocher, a young single mother, who arrives in the French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes with her six-year-old daughter, Anouk.

The Plot of Chocolat

On the heels of Mardi Gras, Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk move into the religious French village of Lansquenet. She causes a stir in the community when she decides to open up her chocolate shop, La Céleste Praline. Possessed with the ability to know each of the villagers’ favorites, Vianne quickly forms a bond with many of the once suspicious villagers.

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This, however, does not sit right with the village priest, Pere Reynaud, who is determined to maintain the religious values of what he calls his “flock.” He is certain that only a witch could cause the rise of “sinful” indulgence as it pertains to the pleasures of life. The plot follows the dual perspectives of Vianne and Reynaud as they butt heads over what is morally right for the people.

Characters

Harris’s novel contains quite a few complex characters. The protagonist, Vianne Rocher, is a beautiful unmarried woman who certainly has a few tricks up her sleeve. With her ability to see the desires of others — especially when it comes to their favorite chocolate delights — Vianne is able to warm the hearts of even the most skeptical villagers.

Despite her gift, she does not call herself a witch. She and her daughter have lived a nomadic life up until they reached Lansquenet, where the establishment of the chocolate shop and their loyal bonds to others make them feel more rooted than before. Their internalization of love, freedom, and self-acceptance is what drives the plot of the novel.

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Vianne’s six-year-old daughter, Anouk, also plays a role in the grand scheme of things. She loves her mother and their travel together, but she tends to struggle with the loneliness of it all. She has an imaginary pet rabbit, Pantoufle, who helps her cope with being uprooted.

Pere Reynaud, the book’s antagonist, is a rigid and arrogant parish priest who sees Vianne as a threat to his community. He holds himself above his “flock” of villagers and preaches down to them with law, theory, and rhetoric. He opposes Vianne’s more empathetic approach to influencing the lives of others.

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Some more secondary characters appear throughout the novel, and they are offered their own development. They include Armande, an elderly who recognizes Vianne as a “witch” and befriends her immediately; Josephine Muscat, a troubled woman sneered at by the town and stuck in an abusive relationship; and Guillaume, a gentle old man who is greatly attached to his old dog, Charley. While the town seeks to ice out these individuals, it is Vianne who bravely approaches them.

Themes of Chocolat

Despite its mundane setting, Harris’ novel acts as a modern fairytale in its own right. Vianne may be considered a witch as far as the village is concerned, but her impact is far from negative. The novel has a heavy focus on change, especially when it is challenged by those we view as different from ourselves. The focus is not necessarily on who is right or wrong. Rather, Harris is seeking to analyze both sides.

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Harris achieves this by providing the alternating viewpoints of Vianne and Pere Reynaud. As they challenge each other’s comfort, the narrative still humanizes them with personal struggles. The novel is seeking to condemn either party in the matter. It is the methods that each of them uses that are spoken upon. Vianne’s humility brings her closer to the villagers, while Reynaud’s self-righteousness drives them away.

Book to Movie Adaptation

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On January 5, 2001, Miramax Films released a film by the same name. Directed by Swedish film director Lasse Hallström, the film took inspiration from Harris’s novel. It starred Juliette Binoche as Vianne and Johnny Depp as Roux. The movie takes some liberties in the change it makes to the novel while still maintaining its magical realism. Firstly, it takes the modern 90s setting of the novel and brings it back to the late 1950s-early 1960s.

Another notable change was that Pere Reynaud became Comte de Reynaud, the town mayor (played by Alfred Molina). The film frames the Comte as someone far less villainous, winding in a sympathetic backstory that shows his need for control conflicting with a love for his town.

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The biggest difference between the novel and the film is the focus of the storyline. The novel frames its narrative around the conflict between Vianne and “The Black Man” — an archetypal symbol of the church and the authorities — personified by Reynaud. The film carries a more romantic tone where Vianne falls for a man named Roux — a plot missing from the book. Fortunately, these changes do not detract from either medium’s focus on the magic of everyday occurrences. Couple that with the quaint backdrop of a small French village, and you’ve got a summer read worth exploring!


For some book recommendations that match your tastes in chocolate, click here!

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