Reviews provided by Syndetics
Publishers Weekly Review
The battle lines between church and chocolate are drawn by this British (and part French) author in her appealing debut about a bewitching confectioner who settles in a sleepy French village and arouses the appetites of the pleasure-starved parishioners. Young widow Vianne Roche's mouthwatering bonbons, steaming mugs of liqueur-laced cocoa and flaky cream-filled patisserie don't earn her a warm welcome from the stern prelate of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes. In Francis Reynaud's zeal to enforce strict Lenten vows of self-denial, he regards his sybaritic neighbor with suspicion and disdain. Undaunted, Vianne garners support from the town's eccentrics, chiefly Armande Voizin, the oldest living resident, a self-professed sorceress who senses in Vianne a kindred spirit. A fun-loving band of river gypsies arrives, and a colorful pageant unfurls. The novel's diary formcounting down the days of Lent until Easteris suspenseful, and Harris takes her time unreeling the skein of evil that will prove to be Reynaud's undoing. As a witch's daughter who inherited her mother's profound distrust of the clergy, Vianne never quite comes to life, but her child, Anouk, is an adorable sprite, a spunky six-year-old already wise to the ways of an often inhospitable world. Gourmand Harris's tale of sin and guilt embodies a fond familiarity with things French that will doubtless prove irresistible to many readers. Rights sold in the U.K., Germany, Canada, Sweden, Holland, Spain, Italy, Finland, Denmark, Brazil, Israel, Norway, Greece, the Czech Republic, Poland. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
When Vianne Rocher and her daughter arrive in the small French town of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, they open a shop specializing in exquisite, voluptuous chocolates. This is the first breath of giddiness the town has ever felt. So isolated is the place, it still rigorously maintains Lenten abstinences, and the town priest takes umbrage at the effrontery of this arriviste scheduling a festival of chocolate for Easter Sunday. Yet the townspeople slowly come round to realizing their need for some joy, and they embrace the heady stimulation of chocolate in the midst of their quotidian miseries. Only the priest himself seems to stay outside Vianne's chocolates' siren song. This conflict between pleasure and self-denial has been covered before, but never so lushly for the chocoholic. Harris' writing conveys a multitude of images and captures the self-absorption of small-town life in France. --Mark Knoblauch
Kirkus Book Review
A first novel that rather cloyingly describes the transformations that overtake the residents of a small French village when a mysterious stranger and her daughter arrive and open a chocolate shop. The townspeople of Lansquenet live in the present day, but the patterns of their lives were established long before they were born'and change very little from year to year. A hamlet straight out of Flaubert, Lansquenet is filled with busybodies who have nothing better to do with their days than spy on one another, until two new arrivals provide fresh grist for the mill. What inspired Vivianne Rocher to move to Lansquenet with her daughter Anouk and to open a chocolate boutique is never explained, but her effect on the populace is profound and immediate: the grim little town and its sniping inhabitants are transformed through the magic of Vivianne's confections into an almost surreal assembly of sensualists, each somehow discovering in bonbons the key to happiness. Elderly crones find themselves remembering long- forgotten loves; shy young couples work up the nerve to break the ice. Is this all the result of only chocolate? Or is some more sinister force at work? The local priest suspects the worst, and his suspicions are reinforced by his awareness that Vivianne opened her shop on Shrove Tuesday'and thus has been tempting the entire parish from its Lenten austerities for the past six weeks. Now, she has even announced plans for a 'Chocolate Festival' to take place on Easter Sunday itself! Horrified, he hatches a plan to foil her festivities, but God does not always side with the just. Who will win the soul of the town? Premise, prose, and pace all march along capably, but they fail nevertheless to raise the whole above the debilities of heavy symbolism and excruciatingly precious plot.