This is part of my Summer Reads series where I’ll be reviewing a series of “not just cookbooks”.
From Joanne Harris, the author of the bestselling Chocolat (the chocolate shop that inspired the book/film is located in Nérac!), comes The Strawberry Thief, the fourth novel to feature Vianne Rocher.
From the publisher:
Vianne Rocher has settled down. Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, the place that once rejected her, has finally become her home. With Rosette, her ‘special’ child, she runs her chocolate shop in the square, talks to her friends on the river, is part of the community. Even Reynaud, the priest, has become a friend.
But when old Narcisse, the florist, dies, leaving a parcel of land to Rosette and a written confession to Reynaud, the life of the sleepy village is once more thrown into disarray.
The arrival of Narcisse’s relatives, the departure of an old friend and the opening of a mysterious new shop in the place of the florist’s across the square – one that mirrors the chocolaterie, and has a strange appeal of its own – all seem to herald some kind of change: a confrontation, a turbulence – even, perhaps, a murder…
There are a lot of similarities with Chocolat – the story is set during Lent and focuses on the arrival of an “outsider” who sets up shop in the town under the wary and watchful eyes of the locals (including Vianne who was initially shunned by the villagers). Definitely brings back memories of when Vianne arrived in town during Lent 20 years ago with her daughter Anouk. Now, Anouk lives in Paris and Vianne has moved back to Lansquenet-sous-Tannes permanently with her younger daughter, Rosette.
There are lots of pieces of a puzzle to unwrap in this book – along with Vianne and Rosette’s storyline, there’s a whole plot featuring the deceased flowerseller (which manages to weave in many other characters from the town and the past), we’re also asking ourselves many other questions: why does Narcisse leave a “confession” to Père Reyanud when he’s not even a religious man? Why has Narcisse left a plot of land to Rosette? Why is Narcisse’s father a murderer? So many mysteries and plots to unpack here!
The book is whimsical and lyrical, as is Harris’s style. The story meanders a little, each chapter is written in a different character’s voice and for me, who tends to read a book chapter by chapter on separate days, it took me a little bit of thinking to get into each chapter and “situate myself”. It’s a clever technique, for sure (especially if you have read the other books – though if you have not, this would probably work as a standalone novel too) but I’d recommend trying to read this in one or two sittings so you don’t lose the thread of the storyline. The “confession” Narcisse leaves Père Reynaud, in particular (which is divided over many chapters) is a bit hard to follow if you are reading this in fits and starts.
If you’re a fan of Chocolat, you’ll love this fourth instalment in Vianne’s story (because you’ll probably have been wondering…). If you’ve never read Chocolat, but love reading about small-town France (Lansquenet-sous-Tannes is like any small French town), have a read of this. Harris’s writing style will hook you from the start and you’ll want to keep reading until you know the outcome to all the questions posed throughout. An excellent summer read!
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Disclosure: I purchased this book for myself. All opinions are my own.
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