Author: Joanne Harris
First Published: 1999
Page Count: 306
Film/ TV Adaptation: Yes*
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Note: Book 1 in the Chocolat series
The author excels at making her characters and their story as irresistible as the savory chocolate descriptions that fill the pages of this delicious novel.
*Undertones of magic *Common theme that feels fresh *Chocolate!
* Didn’t enjoy the ending
“Why can no one here think of anything but chocolates?” Vianne and her young daughter, Anouk, arrive in the small village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes in the hopes of opening a chocolate shop called La Celeste Praline. However, not everyone in this quaint traditional hamlet are very receptive to their idea. Gossip spreads from the mouths of nosy housewives, and the parish priest, Francis Reynaud, sees it as his duty to alienate such a sinful shop and its owners from his saintly flock. But not everyone in town is as unwelcoming as Reynaud, and Vianne’s shop becomes a symbol of change for Lansquenet. A divided village must decide whether to embrace change or fight against it no matter what the negative consequences are.
If you’re a Johnny Depp fan like I am, I’m sure Chocolat is one of your favorite movies. Besides getting to see Johnny play a roguish gypsy, the chocolate scenes are to die for. I had no idea the movie was based on a book, so I jumped on reading it once I got my hands on it. The one thing I was worried about was whether the book would be able to match the film’s ability to make chocolate look so tantalizing. Luckily, the author strings along just the right amount of savory descriptions that make your mouth water just as much as if you were visually seeing the chocolate. I realize now, it was the movie that had big shoes to fill as far as recreating the magic of Vianne’s chocolate shop! The story has a simple, commonly used theme where there are a group of people stuck on tradition and unwilling to welcome newcomers bringing positive change, but then, in the end, everyone sees the light. However, there are clever hints to magic in the book that make the story feel unique instead of overdone, which I loved. It feels set in reality, but you never can tell if there is something more to Vianne and her daughter. The stories of the villagers are also very heartwarming and keep the book moving; you genuinely care about each personal story they bring into Vianne’s shop.
However, I’m a bit conflicted about my view on the ending of the book. This is mostly because I was definitely influenced by the film when forming my opinion. I won’t give away anything for either the book or the movie, but I will throw it out there that I enjoyed the ending in the movie far more than I did the ending in the book. The movie’s ending has more closure and more of a happy ending for the entirety of the village, whereas in the book, the reader is left to wonder about certain elements of the story. I do realize that this leaves the author open to write a sequel, which she did, but I think a sequel was possible with the film’s ending too. Everything ties together so well in the end of the film and still leaves room for a little mystery, but I hate to judge the book based on a film made after the book was written. Either way, I can’t shake the fact that the ending bummed me out a bit after such a great book that managed to stay great even though it was very different from the film.
All in all, Chocolat is a fantastic story in book or film form. I heartily recommend both but since this is a book review blog, I’m obviously going to encourage you to check out the book first. Maybe you can avoid my one issue of not enjoying the ending if you approach the story from the book’s point of view first. The story takes place during Lent and the beginning of spring so there is no better time than right now, during the same season, to jump into a book that is going to make you crave chocolate every time you flip through its pages. You’ll at least have a really good reason to stock up on Easter candy!
*Film Adaptations: (Starring Johnny Depp 2000)