My second completed read for our Paris in July 2012 event was a re-read of a much loved novel for me, Chocolat by Joanne Harris.
I remember reading this book when it was first released and what a fuss it created in the reading world - it was one of those books that people asked you if you had read and that you passed on to others once you had read it yourself. It really has a winning combination, chocolate, France, travel, wanderlust, magic, love and of course, more chocolate! Joanne Harris has written a lovely piece on her website about her influences in writing the book.
Chocolat is the story of Vianne Rocher, a young woman recently arrived in the small French village of Lansquent with her six year old daughter, Anouk. Vianne and Anouk are travellers through life, rarely settling in one place for very long but in Lansquent Vianne sees the opportunity to try and create a home for herself and her daughter and so they settle in an old bakery with Vianne turning the shop into the La Celeste Paraline Chocolaterie Artisanale - a decadent chocolate shop filled with Vianne's hand made creations.
From the very beginning it it clear that Chocolat is a book for all the senses;
We came on the wind of the carnival. A warm wind for February, laden with the hot greasy scents of frying pancakes and sausages and powdery-sweet waffles cooked on the hotplate right there by the roadside, with the confetti sleeting down collars and cuffs and rolling in the gutters like an idiot antidote to winter.
It is Harris' sensual and evocative writing that really makes Chocolat such a beautiful book for me - I really feel as though I have been transported to this French village and am sitting in the Chocolaterie drinking a rich, creamy hot chocolate with a truffle on the side...
Of course Vianne's dramatic entrance to the community of Lansquent and her establishing of a chocolate shop in the middle of lent does not go unnoticed. The local priest, Reynaud, takes particular offence to Vianne and Anouk's arrival and sets out to damage her reputation and turn the community away from their lusts for her chocolate and friendly company.
Chocolat is still as beautiful and enriching to me as the first time I read it, a book that takes the reader to France and the world of magic and chocolate without being unreal or completely escapist.