Chocolat by Joanne Harris (Reading Challenge Book Review)

Chocolat (Chocolat #1)Chocolat by Joanne Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s typical for me to like the book vs the movie in inverse proportions — the more I love the book, the less I’ll like the movie. Sometimes it’s the other way around, as with Terms of Endearment, with the movie so fantastically wonderful and the book so fantastically atrocious. It happens sometimes.

I first saw the movie Chocolat years ago and loved it, and was pleasantly surprised when I loved the book as well, although there are some noticeable differences. The book is set in the 1990’s while the movie is post-war, perhaps to better capture the provincial feel of the setting. In the movie, Vianne’s nemesis was the mayor rather than the village priest, perhaps to soften what many in the reading audience felt was a shot at the Catholic church itself.

I can understand it, though. I once had a pastor similar to Reynaud, and in a similar situation. I sought advice and guidance with my own marriage, an abusive one, and found about as much comfort as Josephine got from her priest – you’re violating your vow of marriage, the solemnity of the marriage promise, a good wife is supposed to…blah blah fuckity blah. Excuse me? What about my husband’s vow of marriage, the solemnity of his marriage promise, how a good husband is supposed to behave? I felt betrayed, and when God betrays you, that’s serious. I fled that church and fled the marriage not long after, and have had nothing to do with organized religion since. I decided, as Vianne told the priest in the book, that I did not need an intermediary to connect with God/the Universe/the Divine/the Great Mother/the Force/whatever you want to call it. I have explored several different religious paths since then, stitched bits and pieces of many of them into my own warm heathen patchwork quilt, and have settled into a direct-line relationship with Whatever Name You Like for Your Invisible Man in the Sky that is far more spiritually aware than any relationship I’ve ever had with a brick-and-mortar church. And there you have it.

So I can see why some reviewers felt this book was attacking the entire Catholic Church. And maybe it kind of has that coming, if only for the contemptible offense of hiding pedophiles within its ranks. But the fictional Curé Reynaud is no more representative of the entire Catholic Church than that one shitty pastor I encountered was representative of all of Christianity, and smart, discerning people can figure that out. And there are two sides to that coin. Decades ago, when I was very young, working at a university library, I regularly helped the college’s priest with book and audio-visual (that’s how long ago this was; it was still called audio-visual) stuff. I adored Father Simon. He kept telling me I needed to get back to church, and I’d say, “But I’m not Catholic, Father,” and he’d say, “It doesn’t matter, God is God, I don’t care what church and God doesn’t care either,” and I actually did attend one time, at his little college chapel. That’s the one and only time I went to a Catholic ceremony and I felt out of place, not because of Father Simon who was wonderful as always, but because I’ve always felt a little squirmy in any church except the great outdoors, and when I told Father Simon that, he agreed that was all right too.

And I think that’s ultimately what Harris was writing about, by way of one power-drunk priest and another, utterly heathen sort of a fallen-woman character who gave the comfort and support the people needed and who better embodied the teachings of Christ than did the man of the cloth. The many different paths to God, if you will. And I still won’t go to church.

Anyway, this book is great stuff. Harris’ writing is lyrical, I felt I was right there in the village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, I loved the townspeople I was supposed to love and did not love – actually felt sorry for, rather than hating — the ones I was not supposed to love. My only complaint is that Roux was not written nearly as delicious as Johnny Depp made him – but that would be hard to do without pictures.

You’re welcome.

This book was ## on my 2017 Reading Challenge, a book about food.

Bookshelves: chick-lit, france, literary-fiction, women, magic, mysticism, religion-sort-of, misogyny-rules, popular-fiction, social-commentary, reading-challenge

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Author: Deborah Lee

I like trees, dreaming, magic, books, paper, floating, dreaming, rhinos, rocks, stargazing, wine, dragonflies, trains, and silence to hear the world breathe.

One thought on “Chocolat by Joanne Harris (Reading Challenge Book Review)”

  1. We could be heathen ( my mothers description of me) twins separated at birth. But your life suspended for a few years as i am probably older. I hung on to the vicar’s every word and begged the all masterful God to disappear my abusive controlling other; to no avail. And I love the book and your review, but secretly wanted to rip out the priests eyes. Now i rely on me, try to be the (pardon the pun) Best me I can be, and I adore The Husband who joined himself to me on a beach in Hawaii five years ago. You know what It has cancelled out the 30 years it took to run. Whatever it was. It made me. A writing, reading, watching, loving loon who only regrets what she didn’t do. Love your post, sorry to rant. It maybe time to read it again.


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