Peaches for Monsieur le Curé
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 25th July, 2014
Joanne Harris’s novel Chocolat was a huge success in many countries and languages, as well as being the basis for an Oscar-nominated film of the same name, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. So the south-western French village of Lansquenet and its cast of characters, from the crusty priest, Francis Reynaud, to the vivacious founder of the chocolate shop and part-time white witch, Vianne Rocher, are familiar to millions of people round the world. In this sequel, Peaches for Monsieur le Curé, Joanne Harris fast-forwards eight years, bringing Vianne and her two daughters back to Lansquenet from Paris, where they had settled, following a summons by letter from an old lady, Armande, now deceased, who wrote that the village needs Vianne’s help. But for whom? It will be a while before either Vianne or the reader realises, while in the meantime it becomes clear that the community’s calm has been disturbed, by a declared war — but a war between whom? The reader’s initial assumption is that it must be between the traditional Catholic French on one side of the river and the Moroccans who have moved in over the other side of the bridge. But nothing in Joanne Harris’s imaginative world is ever that simple, and layer after layer of complexity is uncovered like the dismemberment of a mille feuilles. Moreover, the idyllic surface impression of the village is only a veil behind which lurk conflicting emotions and a whole series of human sins, real or intended: hate, envy, jealousy, rape, murder, suicide and more. August heat shimmers but also gives rise to contrary winds by which individuals and families get buffeted. In contrast to the Lenten period of Chocolat (which is why the priest was scandalised by the opening of Vianne’s chocolate shop, with its sensuous temptations) in the new novel the period in which the action takes place is Ramadan. As ever, food plays an important role in the narrative, from the iftar dinners of the Muslim community to the peaches that Vianne gathers fom a tree in Armande’s garden and distributes to key characters in the plot. A review can only skate over the surface of the plot of a novel as rich in twists and turns as this. But settle down for as many hours or days it takes you to absorb 450 pages and be prepared for surprises, both black and white, and immense pleasure.