Chocolat: A Novel

by Joanne Harris

Hardcover, 1999

Call number




Viking Adult (1999), 304 pages


A young widow opens a chocolate shop in a French village, transforming its normally austere inhabitants into unabashed sensualists. The event coincides with Lent, and the villagers' rejection of traditional self-denial angers the parish priest who declares war. A first novel.

User reviews

LibraryThing member chinquapin
Vianne Rocher and her six year old daughter Anouk, arrive in a small, Catholic French town at the beginning of the Christian season to Lent to open a chocolate store. At first, it appears that she will have a difficult time fitting into the town as she is an outsider and an unmarried mother and she
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is not Catholic; but she soon makes friends and customers with many of the townspeople. She helps people in the town, like the wife who is beaten and the unconventional grandmother whose daughter doesn't let her see her grandson.

The town priest is convinced that she is dangerous to the town with her pagan ways, and tries to use his influence to ruin her business. There are also some gypsies in this book, who arrive in boats on the river. Vianne and older woman in the town who also seems to be a pagan, befriend the gypsies which enrages the priest who just wants them to be gone.

Basically, I did not really enjoy this book. I was not carried away with the writing as some others have been. I did enjoy the descriptions of the chocolates, however. The plot was thin and moved with the speed of glacial ice. I found the characters to be drawn too black and white. The good characters are too good and kind and intelligent, whilst the bad characters are too evil and mean-spirited and ignorant. This sort of gave the book a fairy tale or morality tale feel. Anyhow, I doubt that I will be reading anymore Joanne Harris, but I am glad that I finally got around to reading this one as I am forever being asked if I have read it.
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LibraryThing member Crazymamie
I truly loved this book. All of it - the characters, the story line, and also the wonderful writing. It felt like what the title suggests - an indulgence. When Vianne Rocher and her young daughter arrive in Lansquenet, France and set up shop, they find that they have unwittingly stirred the ire of
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the village priest. Not only is she a single mother who does not attend church, Vianne also has the audacity to keep Sunday hours. The harder she tries to make a home for herself and her daughter in the small town, the more determined the priest becomes that they should be driven out. I was trying to explain the plot of this book over on Susan's thread, and here is what I came up with: If anything, I'd say it's about how narrow minded thinking can justify evil done in the guise of righteousness. It's about how pettiness is always threatened by an open heart and an open mind. I liked the hidden depths of a well told story that had me thinking about it well after I'd finished reading it.

"We sat down to the table in the cramped kitchen. The table was left from the shop's bakery days, a massive piece of rough-cut pine crosshatched with knife scars into which veins of ancient dough, dried a consistency of cement, have worked to produce a smooth marbly finish. The plates are mismatched: one green, one white, Anouk's flowered. The glasses, too, are all different: one tall, one short, one that still bears the label Moutarde Amora. And yet, this is really the first time that we have owned such things...The novelty of possession is still an exotic thing to us, a precious thing, intoxicating. I envy the table its scars, the scorch marks caused by the hot bread tins. I envy its calm sense of time, and I wish I could say: I did this five years ago. I made this mark, this ring caused by a wet coffee cup, this cigarette burn, this ladder of cuts against the wood's coarse grain. This is where Anouk carved her initials, the year she was six years old, this secret place behind the table leg. I did this on a warm day seven years ago with the carving knife. Do you remember? Do you remember the summer the river ran dry? Do you remember? I envy the table's calm sense of place. It has been here a long time. It belongs."
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LibraryThing member MoniqueReads
Chocolat is written like a fairly tale. The writing is very fluid, lyrical and romantic. Written in first person, the story is told through the view points of two very different, yet similar people. Vianne is a drifter, has been a drifter all her life. Since childhood her and her mother have
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traveled from place to place never settling in one stop. Now an adult she is repeating the same patterns set by her mother. Reynaud is a country priest in the town that Vianne had decided to settle, at least for the moment. Reynaud is a local boy and worry of outsiders.

Early in the story Harris sets up the tense and animosity between Reynaud and Vianne. Vianne since that Reynaud sees her as a threat and worries what pain he will inflect on her and her called. Reynaud sees Vianne and her daughter as sinners, sent to wreck havoc on his congregation. Its and interesting battle, Reynaud takes it more seriously than Vianne. Yet, the reader can feel the struggle of between the characters. Reynaud's frustration has citizens of Lansquenet welcome Viannee and her chocolate shop into there community is almost tangible. His struggle with setting an example by being pleasant but wanting to protect his sense of tradition are strong.

Vianne, on the other hand, is struggling with her past and the hopes for her child's future. She can't decide if Reynaud is an actually threat or rather a manifestation of past worries and insecurity. Readers get to see how Vianne's personality and ability to understand people draw people into her show and how bonds between her and the town are formed. Vianne and her daughter, Anouk, are very likable characters. There bond is nice written and portrayed in the story.

Chocolat, has been made into a movie and the books has a different feel. The movie (if I remember correctly) is more of a love story. The book is not a love story, its a story about change. Yet, like the movie it has a very whimsical feel. Harris does a good job of illustrating Vianne and Anouk gifts without making the story overly exaggerated. The fantasy magical aspect seems like a part of the story without making the story see make believe.

The one thing that this story lacks is a climax that does the story justice. The climax in the story is very lackluster. It almost came and went. The story was set up for this final battle between Reynaud and Vianne but that never manifested.
Pros: Writing, Characters, Plot
Cons: Climax

Overall Recommendation:

Chocolat is a good novel. The writing is excellent and the character likable. Highly recommended. But be aware that the movie does not follow the book that closely and if you are looking for a great love story this is not the night novel. Instead, tryLike Water for Chocolate.
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LibraryThing member jbrubacher
A woman arrives in a French village, opens a chocolaterie, and catalyzes change that uproots the day-to-day for everyone. I've seen and enjoyed the film. But it had translated the magic of the book into something bite-sized. The book itself has layers that are uncontainable, an ending that's loose
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and ambiguous, and the whole thing is darker, more impressive, more tangible, and less tidy. It's about the richness of chocolate and of human relationships, the definition of sin-- if sin exists-- and the monsters we bring with us, no matter where we go. Quite a book. Definitely recommended.
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LibraryThing member writestuff
Vianne Rocher and her adorable six year old daughter Anouk arrive in the small French town of Lansquenet during a carnival and decide to stay and make it their home. Vianne immediately opens a chocolaterie and begins to minister to the town’s quirky and sometimes troubled inhabitants - including
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the misunderstood Josephine, the river gypsy Roux, the elderly and sympathetic Armande Voizin, and the dog-loving Guillaume. Vianne has an uncanny ability to know what each of these people need and her lavish chocolates and candies appeal to their desire to feed temptation and deny themselves nothing. But there is a dark shadow lurking in the village in the guise of a priest by the name of Pere Reynaud. Certain that Vianne and her daughter are witches who put his church in peril, the priest plans to bring them down on the eve of Easter as the town prepares to celebrate by participating in a huge chocolate festival.

Joanne Harris writes with rich, evocative language. Her descriptions of place and the people who inhabit the town of Lansquenet are luscious. When she writes of cooking, I found myself slipping between her words and sensing the joy of this experience.

So I was a bit baffled when I found myself not loving this book. I wanted to love it. I had looked forward to reading it. I had read glowing reviews of it. But, something was missing.

The plot is a bit thin. There are many unanswered questions about Vianne and her mother…who she remembers throughout the story and who has impacted her life greatly. I was never sure why Vianne never stayed in one place for long and who she was running from. And although I enjoyed the quirky village characters, Harris made the good ones too good and the evil ones too evil.

I had trouble rating this book. On the one hand, Harris writes with a fluidity and beauty that I appreciated and would rate a 4.5. On the other hand, I was disappointed in a plot that seemed to fall short and would only garner a 2.5 or 3. The allure of language kept me turning the pages - and certainly there are plenty of readers who found this to be enough to give Chocolat sumptous reviews. Perhaps it was all those great reviews which raised my expectations. In the end, I closed the book and felt a bit disappointed. Despite this, I will give Harris another try, if only to enjoy her rich descriptions.
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LibraryThing member fiveforsilver
I liked it, but I liked the movie better, though that is possibly because I saw the movie long before I read the book. It was fascinating, however, to recognize the changes that were made - one character from the book that was split into two characters in the movie and so on. The book is darker,
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more unhappy and depressing, and the ending is not as clear. Of course this isn't bad, and it's not surprising that a movie would change these things, but even knowing that, I still liked the movie better.
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
Good gosh, I love chocolate. Just the very thought of it makes me salivate and crave its luscious goodness. I selected this book because I love chocolate so much, and I was not disappointed by this rich tale.

To those of you who have only seen the movie, this book is a different story. It's a
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darker, more spiritual story of Vianne, the "witch" who comes to a small French village with her young daughter to open up a chocolate shop at the beginning of Lent. She's embraced by several already-outcasts of the village and hated by the village priest, Reynaud, who sees her as a threat to the power he believes he has over the village.

Vianne is a multi-dimensional, smart and driven woman whose character I thoroughly enjoyed. Her intelligence and wit keep her one step ahead of those who are out to ruin her. I also enjoyed her daughter, Anouk, who is wild and smart and impish like many young girls. Her spirit is contagious and fun to read.

I highly recommend Chocolat to readers who enjoy a tale of good food, good friends and good indulgences - and not afraid to see the darker sides of things held in high regard, such as the Church, marriage and good health. Like the delicious enrapture of my favorite dessert, Chocolat is a delightful, almost sinful reading treat.
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LibraryThing member kimbabalu
I saw the movie edition before reading this book, so I knew the basic plot before I cracked it open. I was pleasantly surprised that I ended up enjoying both the book and the movie. They took a few liberties when making the movie (adding the character of the Count, moving it back in time, and
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changing the imaginary rabbit to an imaginary kangaroo - why?), but overall kept the same tone and fairy tale quality. I highly recommend this book!
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LibraryThing member MrsLee
I wanted so much to love this book. I adore the movie. Sadly, I did not enjoy the book. The pace was good, the descriptions were good, and some of the characters were quite appealing. However, the antagonists were almost cartoon characters.

What I loved about the movie, was the fall and redemption
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of the antagonist. He was a very real person with very real faults and hangups, and the protagonist also had her own faults and hangups. The solution was for each to give and learn and grow. What the book did, was to make the antagonist the worst sort of caricature of a Christian, and the pagan woman a healing goddess. Thirty years ago I read a lot of fiction books published by "Christian" publishing houses. Honestly, this is the same, only reversed. I suppose it works as a way for the pagan practitioners to get a bit of their own back, but as a great story of humanity, it is lacking.

If this book did nothing but inspire the movie, I will give it kudos for that. Also, the food at the dinner party scene in the movie was much more seductive. I'm just saying.
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LibraryThing member Fluffyblue
A lovely, warm, evocative read. As usual, Joanne Harris conjures up a beautiful story containing loveable characters. The book has many characters who, for me, seemed confusing at first, but then when you get into the book you really get to know everybody.

The story was interesting, and built to a
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good, fast paced and enjoyable ending.
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LibraryThing member neverlistless
I've seen the movie probably about 5 times. I tend to watch it on days when I've called out sick and just want to curl up on the couch or in bed and be carried away. This book brought the same kind of comfort, but ten-fold. Of course, the book is slightly different than the movie in little ways.
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The biggest (and most interesting to me) is the way the priest is protrayed in the movie - a clumsy, awkward, and naive newbie - and the "villain" is the town mayor (or the French equivalent). This is not the case in the book. In Harris' original version there is no mayor, and the priest is the "villain." I can only assume that Hollywood made those changes to avoid controversy and I find it interesting (and a bit amusing).

It was wonderful to get some back story on Vianne and Anouk - we learn about Vianne's mother and a slight mystery concerning the truth regarding that. And let me tell you, this past week I've craved more chocolate than ever before!

I read in some thread on LT that someone thought that the movie was set in the past, but this book surely hints that it is present day. However, I think the movie might cause us to go astray, because Guillame is smitten for the mourning widow, who lost her husband during the war. Vianne says but the war was 20 years ago, and Guillame responds with "no, the first war." Which I was thinking made the movie set in the 60s? I'm not too sure (my history and math skills are a bit sketchy).

All in all - this is a wonderful book!
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LibraryThing member cdg1974
A magical read. Delightful.
LibraryThing member porch_reader
This is a book of many layers. On the surface, it is the story of Vianne Rocher, who moves into a small French town of Lansquenet with her daughter Anouk and opens a chocolate shop. Perhaps because her arrival coincides with the beginning of Lent, Pere Reynaud, the local priest, sees the chocolates
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that she sells to the locals as an unnecessary indulgence. The story unfolds slowly, as Vianne befriends several people who are outcasts themselves - Armande, an older woman whose daughter disapproves of her new friendship; Josephine, who is in conflict with her husband; and Roux, a Gypsy who arrives by boat. But as Vianne displays an uncanny ability to help her customers, Pere Reynaud and many of his congregants feel challenged, and confrontation is inevitable.

The story itself is delightful, especially if you (like me) enjoy the interactions that occur in small towns. But as I was reading this story about Vianne coming to know the town's residents, I realized that Harris had put me in exactly the same position. Everyone in this story has secrets, especially Vianne and Pere Reynaud, our two narrators. And these are revealed at a deliberate pace, with momentum building throughout the book. And then there is the magical realism, which is sprinkled throughout with a light touch. I'm not always a fan of magical realism, but in this case, it is unclear whether Vianne truly has unexplainable powers or whether she simply utilizes the magic of listening, friendship, and, of course, chocolate.

I was mesmerized by this book and look forward to reading more of Harris's work.
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LibraryThing member SueinCyprus
This book was pleasant, well-written, and a bit different from most modern books - but having finished it, I'm not sure why so many people rave over it.

The story is about Vianne Rocher, a single mother with a six-year-old daughter. They've been travelling, but decide to settle down in a small town
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in France. Vianne opens a chocolate shop, and gradually makes friends - and also enemies. In many ways she's the catalyst for changes in this ultra-traditional town: she asks questions, challenges people's ideas, and generally tries to make life pleasant for them.

There's a strange sort of mystical element running through the book. Vianne perceives more than is there - spotting people's deep problems, seeing their thoughts - and although this is explained partly in terms of reading tarot cards and scrying in chocolate, I wanted there to be something more; yet that thread almost faded away.

All in all, an interesting book; worth reading, yet not gripping. The ending was dramatic in various ways, and mostly satisfactory, although it left the future somewhat open.
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LibraryThing member davidabrams
It happens every year like clockwork. Exactly five weeks after the first day of school, my doorbell rings.

Standing there on my front porch is an adorable little boy or girl holding a lunchpail-sized cardboard box, its handle soggy with nervous sweat. Stacked inside are bars of chocolate. The little
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urchin takes a deep breath, stares straight ahead in the region of my navel, and launches into a rehearsed speech: “Good-evening-sir-I’m-raising-money-for-my-

I smile, pat the tike on the head, and fork over five dollars for one candy bar (anything to help that kid win a Nintendo game system). I peel back the foil wrapping, inhale the cocoa aroma, take a bite…then spit it out. Blech! It’s like sinking my teeth into a stick of dietary margarine. Bland, chalky, bittersweet—the five-dollar candy bar isn’t worth the calories.

I always end up giving the rest of “the world’s best chocolate” to my daughter, but even she makes those double-blech faces.

I tell you this story to give you some idea of how I felt after reading Joanne Harris’ novel Chocolat. It’s got a nice foil wrapping and purports to bear a high literary price tag, but don’t be fooled—it’s nothing but empty calories.

The story (which, incidentally, is forthcoming as a movie from Miramax Films) is one of those treacly sentimental fables that give all their characters signposts to carry around while cheerleading Big Messages like “Everyone has a dream, believe in yours” and “In the end, good hearts overcome bad people.”

Chocolat (and, no, I’m not forgetting the “e”—it’s the French spelling of the word) is a magical realism novel which, unfortunately, has little of either. Stick with One Hundred Years of Solitude or that other cocoa-flavored novel, Like Water For Chocolate if that’s what you’re after.

Harris certainly sets up an interesting conflict in her 306-page novel. An unmarried woman, Vianne Rocher, and her six-year-old daughter move to the tiny French town of Lansquenet to open up a chocolate shop. Unfortunately, it’s the Lenten season and the faithful folks of Lansquenet know they should resist the sinful pleasures of marzipan, candied pralines, truffles and (quelle horreur!) Nipples of Venus.

But the townspeople can resist neither the charms of Vianne Rocher nor her sensuously good confections. It soon turns into a sweet holy war: Church vs. Chocolate. To the consternation of the parish priest, Pere Reynaud, the chocolate shop becomes a hubbub of activity—a place for gossips to congregate and a refuge for those seeking shelter from the cruelties of other cold-hearted citizens.

When the earthy, free-spirited Vianne decides to hold a pagan Chocolate Festival on Easter Day, the righteous indignation of Pere Reynaud is whipped to a creamy frenzy. Vianne claims she does nothing more than “sell dreams, small comforts, sweet harmless temptations.” To the priest, however, the idea of a chocolate shop setting up business during “the traditional season of self-denial” is “deliberately perverse.” Pere Reynaud, it seems, has some definite sweet-tooth issues he needs to work out in therapy (or confession).

Did I mention that the chocolaterie is located directly across the town square from the church? Subtlety is not Harris’ strong suit.

What does work best in the novel is Harris’ ability to deliver rich, nougaty descriptions of the chocolate-making process. The author’s biography mentions the fact that she was raised in a sweetshop similar to the one here. She does a marvelous job of recreating the smells and tastes of warm chocolate. Here’s one instance, describing a particularly ornate window display:

It is an amazement of riches, glace fruits and marzipan flowers and mountains of loose chocolates of all shapes and colors, and rabbits, ducks, hens, chicks, lambs, gazing out at me with merry-grave chocolate eyes like the terra-cotta armies of ancient China, and above it all a statue of a woman, graceful brown arms holding a sheaf of chocolate wheat, hair rippling. The detail is beautifully rendered, the hair added in a darker grade of chocolate, the eyes brushed on in white. The smell of chocolate is overwhelming, the rich fleshly scent of it that drags down the throat in an exquisite trail of sweetness.

It’s hard to read that and not swoon. Diabetics are forewarned to proceed with caution through these pages.

Unfortunately, Harris’ delicious syntax gets melted by some poor plot choices. There’s a parade of characters so large and shallow that it’s nearly impossible to form a bond with any of them except Vianne and Pere Reynaud. Most of the others all come from that Hollywood stock of Charming Eccentrics. Perhaps that’s why Miramax scooped up Chocolat—it’s got all those odd folks left over from films like Enchanted April, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain and Il Postino.

The novel is also hampered by shifts in verb tense which are unnecessary and distracting. There’s a sex scene late in the third act which is equally unnecessary and distracting. In fact, there’s so much cleverness and conceit pulling me out of the novel that I wished Ms. Harris had just relaxed, letting herself melt into the fable without forcing me to gag on those emotional stereotypes. It all became too cute and sweet for my tastes.

I’m sure there are people who will really like Chocolat. I’m sure there will be readers who exclaim, “This would be perfect for Oprah!” I’m sure there will be those generous critics who compare her to Hawthorne, Hugo and other authors who wrote great fiction of moral and spiritual conflict. As for me, I found it as hard to swallow as an overpriced candy bar.

So, this year when my doorbell rings, I won’t answer it. I’ve already had my fill of bad chocolate.
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LibraryThing member seph
Enchanting. I don't like to read books after I've seen the movie they're based on, and I struggled a bit with this book because I'd seen the movie first and it's one of my favorites. The book is ever so slightly grittier than the glossy fairytale of a movie. The magic is darker, the characters have
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more secrets, the whole story didn't come together quite so neatly in the end, but it's because of that little bit of a more realistic edge that I wound up loving the book more than I expected to. I will watch the movie again and again and again still, but the book will always be there behind it in my mind as a more powerful memory of the truth that seeded the fairytale. I will definitely be picking up the sequel to this one.
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LibraryThing member smik
Vianne Rocher, with her small daughter Anouk, arrives at a small French village on a festival day leading up to Christmas. She decides to stay and sets up a chocolaterie in the square directly opposite the church. As Lent approaches the village priest identifies her as a corrupting influence,
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confirmed in his mind when Vianne decides to have an Easter Chocolate Festival. Is this a mystery book? - some would say not - but there is plenty of mystery, even an old case of murder - and who is the old priest in a coma whom Father Reynaud visits on such a regular basis? Is Vianne herself who she thinks she is? Beautifully read by Juliet stevenson - a BBC Audiobook on 8 CDs
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LibraryThing member mmillet
When Vianne Rocher and her young daughter arrive in a small, insular French town dressed in red with no husband in sight to set up a chocolate shop the church curate, Francis Reynaud, immediately sees the two a threat to their wholesome values and god-fearing ways. Vianne herself has no interest in
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religion but she is willing to spread her 'magic' in this small town by enchanting the village children and instinctively knowing what everyone's favorite confection might be. She quickly wins friends with the old and young alike but is mistrusted by pere Reynaud and his Bible groupies. When Vianne decides to host a chocolate festival on Easter Sunday, pere Reynaud finds her audacity insulting and begins a battle with the lively chocolatier that will forever change their small town.This rich narrative alternates between Vianne and pere Reyaund's point of view with devastating results: all beauty, goodness, and even evil is laid bare for the reader to see. Vianne is competely open concerning all things in her past - the good and bad - she is funny, loving, and so magical. I was constantly lost in her decadent descriptions of her many chocolates. It was just so sensual - but not overtly or oddly so - which became especially obvious any time it switched to Reynaud's narration. Sanctimonious, self righteous and proud, Reynaud was a perfect foil to Vianne brightness and beauty.The movie itself stayed pretty true to the book, but I must say I actually like the movie better. When does that ever happen?? I constantly had an image of Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp as Vianne and Roux while reading this and their characterizations were perfect. Although the book was magical and beautifully written I absolutely HATED the ending. The movie ended so much better. I don't want to spoil anything here: but what was Vianne thinking?!?
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LibraryThing member nakmeister
Vianne Rocher is a confident woman with a young girl, Anouk. For all of her life Vianne has travelled around, never staying in one place for very long. However now she wants her and Anouk, her daughter, to find a place to settle down and live in. They come to the small town of Lansquenet in rural
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France, and rent out the old Bakery, shut for many years now. They make quite a stir in the very traditional village, not only because they don’t go to Church, but also because Vianne is opening a Chocolate Shop in the village, right at the start of lent. They soon make friends, but also enemies too...

This was actually my wife's book that she took with her on holiday, and she loved it so, when she finished it I started reading it. For a while I had been wanting to broaden the range of books I read, out from just Science Fiction, Fantasy and Thrillers. I found the book excellent, I couldn’t put it down, completely not what I expected from such a more mainstream book. I expected it to be perhaps interesting but slow going, but I was very wrong. The writing style is great, easy to read but conveying a lot of meaning, and the characters seem so real and lifelike. The book really made me think too, and that’s the sort of book I like.
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LibraryThing member terena
I have to admit, I like the movie better. The prose is beautiful, the descriptions tasty, but I liked the movie ending better. The characters were not as strong in the book. Hard to compare. Different media.
LibraryThing member kikianika
A beautiful fairy tale/French literary story about food, passion, religion and small-town life in all its ugly complexities. Sweetly written with some gems of phrases thrown in almost carelessly. It's rare to read an English author write with French sensibility. I haven't seen the movie (yet), and
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I'll be curious to see how it compares.
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LibraryThing member smalltownanimal
A compelling story about temptation, fear, and contentment. Joanne Harris' mysterious, amusing, and dynamic characters left me hanging at the end of every chapter!
LibraryThing member miketroll
Single parent feistily setting up a chocolaterie in a strange southern French village. Local colour and characters excellent. None of that vile Peter Mayle-in-Provence fantasy where the French are all funny little people who don't turn up on time to fix the plumbing.
LibraryThing member BudaBaby
Small town dynamics come to a head when a mysterious woman and her child move in.
LibraryThing member infomidwife
This was a great read, an I love chocolate mixed with a bit of wizardry. It reminded me of my childhood and the religous contradictions and hipocarcy.




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