Vianne Rocher and her six-year-old daughter Anouk arrive in the small village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes—"a blip on the fast road between Toulouse and Bourdeaux«—during the carnival. Three days later, Vianne opens a luxuriant chocolate shop crammed with the most tempting of confections and offering a mouth-watering variety of hot chocolate drinks. It’s Lent, the shop is opposite the church, it’s open on Sundays and Francis Reynaud, the austere parish priest, is livid.
One by one the locals succumb to Vianne’s concoctions. Harris weaves their secrets and troubles, their loves and desires, into this, her third novel, with the lightest touch. Sad, polite Guillame and his dying dog. Thieving, beaten-up Josephine Muscat. Schoolchildren who declare it «hypercool» when Vianne says they can help eat the window display—a gingerbread house complete with witch. And Armande, still vigorous in her 80s, who can see Anouk’s «imaginary» rabbit Pantoufle, and recognises Vianne for who she really is. However, certain villagers—including Armande’s snobby daughter and Josephine’s violent husband—side with Reynaud. So when Vianne announces a Grand Festival of Chocolate commencing Easter Sunday, it’s all-out war. War between church and chocolate, between good and evil, between love and dogma.
Reminiscent of Herman Hesse’s short story Augustus, Chocolat is an utterly delicious novel, coated in the gentlest of magic, which proves—indisputably and without preaching—that soft centres are best. —Lisa Gee