I loved Chocolat - as I said in my post about it, which you can read here if you haven't already. Apart from the fact that Harris is a writer with a wonderful talent for telling a story, there is a glorious element of play. It gives the book, despite some of the darker elements, a sense of innocence at times that is most beguiling. Moving onto the next stage of Vianne and Anouk's lives, that innocence is absent.
Instead of living the truth they lived before Rosette's birth, Vianne is trying to create a life that is 'normal'. Rosette was a sickly baby who did not thrive. Even now, she is much smaller than usual for her almost four years and she doesn't speak. She does however, have an imaginary friend, Bam, as Anouk did with Pantoufle. We find Vianne and the girls at a turning point. Their landlady, and partner in the business, has just died. The owner of the building, Thierry, is away on business can can't be at the funeral, but sends a message to say that they're not to worry, something can be worked out. At the same time, a mysterious stranger arrives, Zozie de l'Alba - quirky, loud, confident, charming and, above all, helpful.
This is indicative of the tone of this book - everything feels as if it's a back story. There was a direct quality to the story-telling in Chocolat. Lollipop Shoes is full of hidden messages, secrets, half-truths, and layers of mystery. No-one is quite what they appear to be - we know that Vianne is not being herself, and as a result, Anouk is being stifled. Thierry appears to be the consummate good guy, helpful when things need to be done and outwardly supportive of Vianne and the girls - in reality, he is a control freak; someone who, as long as he is in charge, can be magnanimous and caring. Zozie, who arrives on the wind - something Vianne is aware of but refuses to acknowledge - has an agenda, and her story emerges as a parallel narrative. Piece by piece, almost sitting in the same position as Vianne, we are allowed in to see Zozie's subtle, clever invasion of Vianne's little family, motivated by her desire to get hold of Anouk, Anouk who has great powers, although they are being stifled, like Vianne's, due to fear. Zozie encourages Vianne to go back to making chocolate, instead of the basic patisserie fare she's been struggling to make financially viable and slowly, the magic begins to have its effect on the surrounding community as it did back in Lasquenet.
When Roux arrives unexpectedly in Paris, Vianne's composure and careful construct is shattered. Unbeknown to her, he had sent a postcard to let her know he was coming - a postcard appropriated by Zozie. Now, in the mix of people working hard to preserve various facades, there are two who don't - because they can't - Roux and small Rosette.
There is darkness and real evil in this book, and for the first time, the nature of the magic that was just an undercurrent in Chocolat is spelled out. Zozie represents all that can be misused with witchcraft, while Vianne, Anouk and Rosette are crafted from very different cloth. Ultimately, the climax of the novel is an elemental struggle of good and evil, with some unexpected results.
Lasquenet has changed, as have many areas of France, and this was a totally unexpected aspect of this third book. There is an air of the fairy-tale about these books, steeped as they are in magic and mystery, and to have that fairy-tale colour juxtaposed against the edgy politics of current multicultural issues in Europe was a bit jarring at first. Perhaps it's that while we see many of these issues played out in the news in big cities, we don't often get a picture of how the impact of the growth of Muslim communities within smaller towns and villages has been and continues to be.
In one poignant paragraph, everything she has ever wanted but never allowed herself to acknowledge or - more importantly - really have, is summed up so perfectly. Well, I thought it was, but perhaps that speaks of my own yearnings, unwilling gypsy child that I am:
There's something very comforting about the ritual of jam-making. It speaks of cellars filled with preserves; of neat rows of jars on pantry shelves. It speaks of winter mornings and bowls of choclat au lait, with thick slices of food fresh bread and last year's peach jam, like a promise of sunshine at the darkest point of the year. It speaks of four stone walls, a roof, and of seasons that turn in the same place, in the same way, year after year, with sweet familiarity. It is the taste of home.Ultimately, Vianne's journey back to Lasquenet is a means of coming to terms with herself, with who she is, with what she is. It is a means of coming to an acceptance of what her children have inherited and that she must allow them to be who they are. It is when she learns that she needs to be able to trust the people close to her, and let them in.
There are many small and large dramas played out in the narrative. She is involved in some directly, in others she is the catalyst, and in some she is more of a bystander. But they all touch her, and they all contribute to her understanding of herself.
These are exquisitely written books. I have been quite unwell for some weeks, and this past weekend was spent mostly on the couch. It was timely, perhaps, that I had new books, but I have to say, these weren't just any new books. As I said at the beginning of this post, finding a new author is something special. I have a whole new treasure chest of stories awaiting me from Joanne Harris, and if you've never read any of her books, I suggest you get ye hence to your local bookstore and add them to your collection!