The Power Of Chocolateby Deepa Gahlot June 29 2019, 6:12 pm Estimated Reading Time: 2 mins, 27 secs
Vianna Rocher and her magical chocolates first featured in the bestselling book Chocolat by Joanne Harris, which was turned into an Oscar-nominated film, which is why, when one pictures Vianne and her on-off lover, the “river rat” Roux, Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp come to mind.
Two more books followed the Vianne saga, and the fourth, The Strawberry Thief, coming out some twenty years later, brings her back to the lovely little French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, where, in the first book, she has faced the hostility of the residents, the priest, Francis Reynaud in particular.
In this book, Vianne is going through separation pangs when her older daughter, Anouk, leaves to live with her boyfriend in Paris. Tension flares up, when Narcisse, the village florist, leaves part of his property to Vianne’s younger daughter, the probably autistic Rosette, in his will. He also leaves a letter of confession to Reynaud, who is terrified that a crime from his own past will be revealed.
Rosette used to spend lot of time in a wild strawberry patch in the oak woods that is gifted to her by Narcisse. The teenage girl runs around wild in the village, communicating through her drawings and strange animal noises, and an invisible monkey as her constant companion, that only people with magical powers can see. There is also her ability to control the wind, that her mother wants her to keep in check.
Narcisse’s nasty daughter, Michele and her greedy husband, are furious at losing valuable property to Rosette, though their mentally disturbed son Yannick befriends her.
To add to the cauldron of simmering discontent, arrives Morgane Dubois, a tattooist, who rents Narcisse’s old shop, paints the door purple and covers the walls with mirrors. There is something weirdly dangerous about Morgane, as she divines people’s secrets and desires, which she draws on their skins with her tattoo pen and ink.
Vianne is afraid Morgane will take away all that is precious to her, particularly Rosette, who is drawn to the witch-like tattooist. She is aghast when even the most conservative of villagers secretly visit Morgane and get inked.
The story moves from Rosette’s point of view to the long confession by Narcisse that drives the priest to a sleepless dread.
If Chocolat was about tradition and the worldly pleasures that Vianne’s chocolates represent, The Strawberry Thief is about grief, loss and the fear of the unknown evoked by Morgane, and a group of nomadic Muslim migrants who camp by the river. It seems likely that these characters will play stronger parts if there is a fifth book in the series. Towards the end Rosette does emerge as strong, willful and perhaps an inheritor of her mother’s melancholy, as well as her magic… although her chosen medium is not chocolate.
The Strawberry Thief
By Joanna Harris