Chocolat is a contemporary novel with a few fantasy elements. I really liked the setting, which is one of most beautiful and immersive settings I’ve read about lately. This is the second time I have read the book. It was worth rereading, but not amazing enough for me to read it a third time, most likely.
We came on the wind of the carnival. A warm wind for February, laden with the hot greasy scents of frying pancakes and sausages and powdery-sweet waffles cooked on the hot plate right there by the roadside, with the confetti sleeting down collars and cuffs and rolling in the gutters like an idiot antidote to winter. There is a febrile excitement in the crowds that line the narrow main street, necks craning to catch sight of the crêpe-covered char with its trailing ribbons and paper rosettes. Anouk watches, eyes wide, a yellow ribbon in one hand and a toy trumpet in the other, from between a shopping basket and a sad brown dog. We have seen carnivals before, she and I; a procession of two hundred and fifty of the decorated chars in Paris last Mardi Gras, a hundred and eighty in New York, two dozen marching bands in Vienna, clowns on stilts, the Grosses Tetes with their lolling papier-mâché heads, drum majorettes with batons spinning and sparkling. But at six the world retains a special luster. A wooden cart, hastily decorated with gilt and crêpe and scenes from fairy tales. A dragon’s head on a shield, Rapunzel in a woolen wig, a mermaid with a cellophane tail, a gingerbread house all icing and gilded cardboard, a witch in the doorway, waggling extravagant green fingernails at a group of silent children… At six it is possible to perceive subtleties that a year later are already out of reach.
Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk move to the French village of Lansquenet, where Vianne sets up a chocolaterie called La Céleste Praline. When the book opens, it is Mardi Gras. They arrive in town during the carnival. The shop is on the square opposite the church and clashes with the old-fashioned town’s strict observation of Lent.
Vianne is the main point-of-view character, but Pere Reynaud, the local priest, who has a vendetta against Vianne, gets some chapters from his point of view. I also enjoyed the secondary characters.
The magic is understated, but it is a bigger deal in the book than the film. The main character knows what each character’s favorite chocolates or sweets are as soon as she meets them, because she can read their thoughts. Tarot cards play a role, although they may or may not actually reveal the future.
Reynaud is great, and I don’t think he’s a cartoon villain. This is a gray hats vs white hats type of conflict. The film made the mayor the antagonist instead, so if you have only seen the movie you might want to check out the book version.
The ending is bittersweet, but not too sad, and it leaves a few loose ends. In contrast, the film comes closer to tying things up in a neat little bow. (Softening the impact of a bittersweet ending is not exactly new in film adaptations, so I really should have expected it. Stardust by Neil Gaiman comes to mind.)