So first things first, I may as well give you an insight into how this review will ultimately go! Too say that I loved this book is an understatement (and a half,) and reading it has lead me to wish that I had picked this book off my shelf earlier rather than ignoring it’s beautiful purple colour. To be completely honest by the first sentence I was well and truly hooked; ‘we came on the wind of the carnival.’ What a beautiful and charming way to entice the reader to read on and it only gets better as the story and the characters develop. If you haven’t read this book I hope this review pushes you to get hold of a copy and discover it for yourself, if you have read this book, I hope, in spite of yourself you pick it up and give it another read! But, no more back peddling, here is my review! Enjoy
Vianne Rocher has never settled; constantly travelling across the world from the bustling streets of New York to rich towns of Marseille and beautiful Paris, Vianne has never had the life of a regular person. There has been no stable job or income, and with that no stable house or community to become a part of. However, Vianne wants to change this, for her and for her daughter, the beloved and darling Anouk, and she thinks she may have found just the place. Finding an abandoned bakery in the South of France, Vianne tires to change it into a bustling, elegant and magnificent Chocolaterie. However, the many are suspicious of young Vianne, and feel that the Chocolaterie (named La Celeste Praline) is out of place in their quiet and quaint town and that she should take her business elsewhere. Vianne struggles against the suspicions, gossips and whisperings, but triumphs by inviting them in and knowing exactly what their favourite chocolate is. Is it just a lucky guess? Vianne begins to make friendships, the most despised by the locals, with the elderly lady Armande, a mysterious and homely character, despised by the small town and named suspiciously as a witch. However she greets Vianne, as if she has known her forever. As the unlikely friendship is struck up many start to whisper that Vianne is also a witch but is she? The story continues with Vianne continuing to try and find herself in the village and persuade the locals to take her seriously and her shop. The problem is that Vianne is a strong character refusing to attend church due to never being part of the church during her travels. This causes Reynaud (the town’s Catholic priest) to become increasingly angry at the young female and he will do anything in his power to stop her taking over and belittling the town with her chocolate gifts.
The books is written in the form of two people both Vianne and the town priest Reynaud whose chapters see him talking to a nameless unresponsive priest. By alternating between the chapters (although most is from Vianne) it allows for both points of view to be shown adding to the character of the book. Vianne’s chapters are joyful and honest, explaining her want to fit in and her fear of her past; a life lived by the turning and choosing of tarot cards. All she wants is a place to call home that her and Anouk and her imaginary friend Pantoufle, can finally settle and become part of the community. Reynaud however is, although relatively young, a bitter and strict priest who despises Vianne’s carefree and nonchalant view of the church and it’s importance. He vows to take down Vianne and show the community that she should be avoided at all costs. Vianne continues to shun the grip of Reynaud, by taking in one of the characters, Josephine Muscat, that has been the victim of domestic violence and gives her a job in her shop whilst also forming a close bond with the gypsies that come to the town to gain supplies and to repair their riverboats. Much to the disgust of the towns people Vianne offers to help them and becomes an ally. Here we get to the see more of the mystery between Vianne’s true origin and we learn of her history and the dangers that her and her mother faced when travelling across the world. At this point Reynaud is blisteringly angry Vianne as he begins to see more of her true character. However she will not be moved! The story continues to show the way in the two characters battle to share the town.
There is a lot of content to this book and I don’t want to give too much away! However, I cannot help but describe the style to you. The book is written with so much warmth and charm you can almost feel the bustle of La Celeste Praline, as different townsfolk such as Guillaume, and Armande, drop in for steaming cups of chocolate, whilst they bite on delicious pralines and rich Florentines. The parties and nights at the riverboats are equally enchanting with smells of incense, bathed in the light of the lanterns that burn brightly along the river. The book is beautifully written, and it really transports the reader right to that very moment. The characters are rich and full so that you can imagine them easily which only gives the book more strength and depth. The way that Vianne is written is superb; mixing from the feelings that she has when thinking of her mother and the past that they had coupled with the way that she feels she needs to bring up Anouk is often heartbreaking. Her easy manner united with her knowledge of how the village ticks and how to get people to feel for her, and trust her is also brilliantly written. Only a few problems for me; firstly when the chapters swapped as there wasn’t an equal split between the two (which isn’t surprising) at times I was confused at the beginning of the chapter as to who’s story I was listening to and I had to backtrack and re-read to get back into the moment. Additionally, the book is supposedly written at the time, however it feels that it is written before 1999, as at times the thoughts on the Catholic church seem clichéd, however this is only a minor point. I really enjoyed this book and felt it really stretched my imagination! So pick up a copy and be transported to the chocolat smells of La Celeste Praline.