By Joanne Harris
Softbound, 320 pages
A happy read. Especially on this Lenten season. If one has seen the movie first before reading the book or vice verse, I must say that it does not matter. Both versions are justice to each other. But in my case, I saw the movie first and then read the book in years apart, mind you!
Set in an obscure town in France, this novel with magical realism genre is all about spirituality, no mere religion, about the essence of doing good to our fellowmen that showing off goodness, about acceptance of our human weaknesses and surviving it.
I expected some concoction along the way but I failed. I wished there are incorporated recipes on chocolate or some sprinkles of academic facts on chocolate but it did not. What it has is an engaging story told through the eyes gypsy-like Vianne who struggles to find a home, an acceptance by giving people their little sweet indulgence and Fr. Francis Reynaud who struggles about his past by doing penitence and requiring others to do so. Set in the holy days from February 11, Shrove Thursday, up to March 31, Easter Monday.
The minor characters are the main characters. Yes, it is an irony but that is the truth. This is a story of a community kept by strict Church Tradition BUT changed by the arrival of chocolates! It is a battle between Church vs Chocolates, indeed. The Church represented an order in the surface but dark secrets in its core while chocolates represented freedom. The little town, got its freedom from bigotry in the end.
The book is as delicious as the movie. There are minor changes in some characters to suit the visual counterpart but it was done with justice.
However, I underlined nothing from the book. But I remembered that the movie enthralled me because of its script. I still can loosely recall the sermon of the young priest (there is no such character in the book) in the end. It is about embracing. That religion/goodness should be defined not by who it excludes but must be define who it embraces. I wish I can quote it in toto.
And I don't simply give up. So, here is the lifted script from the movie:
I'm not sure what the theme of my homily today ought to be. Do I want to speak of the miracle... of our Lord's divine transformation? Not really, no. I don't want to talk about His divinity. I'd rather talk about His humanity. I mean, you know, how he lived his life here on Earth. His kindness. His tolerance.
Listen, here's what I think. I think we can't go around...measuring our goodness by what we don't do. By what we deny ourselves...what we resist and who we exclude. I think we've got to measure goodness...by what we embrace...what we create... and who we include.
It was certainly not... the most fiery sermon Pere Henri would ever preach...nor the most eloquent. But the parishioners felt a new sensation that day.
At any rate, here are what the book showers that I think could/should interest everyone:
“I sell dreams, small comforts, sweet harmless temptations to bring down a multitude of saints crashing among the hazels and nougatines”
“Sheep are not the docile, pleasant creatures of the pastoral idyll. Any countryman will tell you that. They are sly, occasionally vicious, pathologically stupid. The lenient shepherd may find his flock unruly, definant. I cannot afford to be lenient.”
“Life is what you celebrate. All of it. Even its end.”
“Happiness. Simple as a glass of chocolate or tortuous as the heart. Bitter. Sweet. Alive.”
“I don't think that white collar gives you sole right of access to the divine.”