Even before it was adapted into the Oscar-nominated film starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, Joanne Harris’s Chocolat entranced readers with its mix of hedonism, whimsy, and, of course, chocolate. Now, at last, Chocolat’s heroine returns to the beautiful French village of Lansquenet in another, equally beguiling tale.
When Vianne Rocher receives a letter from beyond the grave, she knows
she must go back to Lansquenet. But the past can be dangerous, and
Vianne and her daughters find their old hometown changed in unexpected
ways. Most surprising of all, her old nemesis, Francis Reynaud,
desperately needs her help. Can Vianne work her magic once again?
Comment: This book wasn't on my radar but a friend is a fan of the author and let me borrow it. I decided to read it right away because it's my personal rule to read borrowed books before others, I don't like to leave the person waiting.
This is the third story set in the world of Vianne Rocher, the heroine we've met in Chocolate, a very famous book also adapted to a movie. In this third story, Vianne and her two daughters return for the summer to Lansquenet-sur-Tannes, where Vianne saw her life change. Now, 8 years after those times, things are different, especially on the cultural level, because of the Muslim community nearby. Vianne decides to pay her respects to an old friend and in the meantime she feels it's her duty to help those who need, even if it's someone like the priest that tried to make her run years before...
I have to say I'm very surprised by how good this book is. The first one I've read many years ago but it was magical at the time. The second one was a bit of a let down and I thought this would be more like a dutiful read, just to keep up with the story. What I got was a great time, a superb story, wonderful details and intakes about the Muslim community and a intriguing mystery with surprising results. I was positively surprised with this one!
I consider myself a fan of the author despite two or three of her books not being more than average for me. This one restored my faith on her writing which I thought to be almost clinically precise and very intelligent. The story is told by Vianne's and Francis' POVs so we can have a very enlarged field vision of the happenings. I thought it was a very good way to not only keep the author updated about what was happening but also to feel what changed in these two characters from the first book.
Vianne is more mature but there's still a bit of a gypsy side in her that never left. Francis seemed the biggest surprise, he was such an arrogant, prideful person in book #1 and now he's changed, he's more humane, more thoughtful and we see a side of him really different, I liked it.
The biggest part of the book is dedicated to the mystery, which revolves around a strange Muslim woman, always using a niqab, a veil that covers most her face. Apparently everyone is reluctant to trust this woman, many think her wise in her ways of behaving, others fear her and the apparent control on her brother, the attractive Karim. As Vianne and the reader learn about the community, the people living there and the traditions they meet as part of their religion and beliefs, we start to see many strange things, some disturbing, others heartfelt, and when we finally learn the truth behind the mysterious woman, I don't think anyone can stay indifferent to the cruelty of knowing how unfair life can be and how ignorance of what others must be enduring during their lives can't be described as bliss.
I have the opinion the biggest strength in the story is the comparison between religions, and although many can say the author is preaching herself to acceptance of one above the other (either way), I thin the lesson to learn here is, life could be so much easier if everyone really respected others instead f always trying to be better or more important than the others. I think this idea was quite well worked within this book.
In the end, I really liked the story, both the precise ideas and plot elements, and also the more introspective moments, like when Vianne reflected on her choices and what is happening around her. ll together made quite the well structured and solid story.
I recommend this to everyone, it's superb in my opinion.