- Book: The Strawberry Thief
- Location: Gers
- Author: Joanne Harris
It is 20 years since Chocolat by Joanne Harris was published (yes, really!)… and now comes a follow-up with Vianne Rocher, chocolatière extraordinaire once again at the heart of the story. It can quite happily be read as a stand alone but I think it would be a richer experience to read Chocolat and the follow-on novels before picking this one up.
Strawberries, more of the forest than the domestic variety, are the leitmotif throughout the story. They even appear in a local shop, in the form of The Strawberry Thief, designed by William Morris & Co., printed as wallpaper.
Vianne is back in fictional Lansquenet-sous-Tannes in the Gers region of France. Her eldest “Summer” daughter Anouk has taken herself off to Paris with her beau. Vianne meanwhile is plying her chocolate trade in the company of her younger “Winter” child Rosette. Rosette is a curious teenager who struggles to speak, who has special abilities and can see the colour auras of individuals in the community and sense the wind as it whips the magic around the village. Clearly she is her mother’s daughter.
The priest Reynaud, who was one of Vianne’s avowed enemies when she first arrived in Lansquenet all those years ago has now mellowed and they have become friends. How times change! Narcisse the florist, who practised his art opposite Vianne’s shop has just passed away and Reynaud is tasked with reading his lengthy, written confession, which is full of surprises. One big surprise is that Narcisse has bequeathed a tranche of land to Rosette and some of the villagers are determined to discover why and thwart the plan. Narcisse’s immediate family has only been left the farmhouse and they are incensed by the legacy that has been denied them.
And then there is newcomer Morgane Dubois, a transtibial amputee. She lacks feet and Vianne has already taken against her, bolstered by the Chinese proverb, Evil Has No Feet (which is why temple doors have such hight thresholds; to protect from wandering demons!). Morgane rents Narcisse’s old flower shop opposite, yet she will not find a friend in Vianne. Could it be that Vianne has picked up the bigoted ways of her fellow villagers, that she treats a new arrival with hostility and suspicion? A rival perhaps…? Morgane brings an unusual trade to the village, one that is as curious and cutting edge as chocolate preparations was all those years ago. Does Vianne perhaps see herself in this new interloper?
Vianne is a flawed character in this novel and she is quite preoccupied with her role as mother. Anouk has flown the nest and Rosette seems to be on the cusp of trying out her metaphorical wings. There is mention on several occasions that children are never ours to keep.
The feeling of reading this novel was like watching the scenery drift by during a car journey. There are many things to observe and ponder and appreciate in this novel, tantalising the senses, and BAM! suddenly, you are at the end. The author has lost none of her gift in evoking a mystical, magical ambience, something just a little other-worldly; and she beautifully brings French country life to her readers. Chocolate of course takes centre stage and the smells rise from the pages like curling wisps of olfactory seduction – will it be chocolate with Tonka. Saffron. Clove. Green ginger. Cardamon. Pink peppercorn? I will leave you to decide…..
We have a particular fondness for Chocolat (and chocolate) because the novel was one of the first books that gave us the inspiration to eventually set up TripFiction. We were absolutely transported to rural France then and now!
As a note, CPL Aromas have apparently created a fragrance inspired by the novel.