Forgive my absence from these pages, but I’ve been under a delicious spell, captivated by the magical story of Vianne Rocher in The Girl With No Shadow, the follow up novel to the equally engaging Chocolat, by Joanne Harris.
Vianne has turned up in another decrepit choclaterie, this time in Montmarte. Four years have passed since the events described in Chocolat, and Vianne has changed. No longer embracing her magical powers or her confectionery skills, she’s decided to forsake it all and “fit in,” live a “normal” life, for the good of her daughters, 11 year old Anouk, and four year old Rosette. She sells factory made chocolates, is engaged to a stiff, didactic businessman, and works hard to quell the winds of change which always threaten to expose her.
For a while it appears she might succeed in her quest to become “normal”, until Zozie de L’Alba blows into her life, a charming, exciting woman, with a particular joie de vivre that Vianne once had, but now keeps buried. And though it seems Zozie has the perfect spell to brighten Vianne’s life once again, there is a darker side to this woman, and her ruthless plans eventually force Vianne to make a choice – should she run away again, as she has so many times before, or stand firm and fight for her family, embracing her true nature for once and all.
There is magical alchemy about Harris’ story telling in these two novels, something that simply doesn’t occur in her other work. It’s as if the magic ingredients Vianne instills in her chocolates are channeled into her pen, luring the reader in almost involuntarily, until you can’t put the book down.
And the craving for chocolate – well, it becomes palpable. I literally find my mouth watering at times, and an almost irrestible urge to run for the nearest confectionary comes over me.
Funny thing…I don’t even like chocolate all that much.
But after all, who can resist descriptions like this:
The rich, dark truffle, flavored with rum; the hint of chilli in the blend; the yielding smoothness of the center and the bitterness of the cocoa-powder finish…none of these explain the strange allure of Vianne’s chocolate truffles.
Perhaps it’s the way they make you feel: stronger, perhaps; more powerful; more alert to the sounds and scents of the world; more aware of the colors and textures of things; more aware of yourself; of what’s under the skin; of the mouth; of the throat; of the sensitive tongue.
Just one, I say.
They try. They buy.
“I think a lot of people come of age in this book, including me to a certain extent,” Harris says in a BookPage interview. “It is very much a story about growing up, and not just Anouk growing up. All the main characters in fact have to investigate who they are and where they’re going and what it means to be an individual.”
Both Chocolat and The Girl With No Shadoware really all about embracing what is unique in ourselves and our lives – whether it’s making magic or chocolate. “I’d rather be a freak than a clone,” Anouk finally shouts, after being bullied about by a group of nasty little girls at school. It’s about discovering and accepting ones true nature, whether that is acceptable in the eyes of the world or not.
And it’s about savoring all of life’s sensual pleasures.
Like the taste of rich, dark chocolate, with just a hint of smoky bitterness.