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Published August 7th 2019
Sequel to a French film favourite
The French-based film Chocolat became a cult classic upon its release in 2000 and an Oscar nomination followed thanks to the sultry moodiness of stars Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche. It brought us to tempting allure and seduction of the dark sweet confectionary which saw readers and filmgoers herald it as a long term favourite.
Photo courtesy Common Sense Media
As a follow-up story, the novel's author, Joanne Harris has penned, The Strawberry Thief. We are transported back to the French village of Lansquenet-sou-Tannes and re-introduced to chocolatier Vianne Rocher. Her daughter Anouk has now grown and left the small village for a life in Paris with her boyfriend. Vianne is caring for her youngest daughter, Rosette, with her "special" needs.
Photo courtesy Booktopia
The village is bewildered when local florist, Narcisse, passes and leaves a piece of woodland to Rosette who he called The Strawberry Thief after she was caught helping herself to the fruit in his French fields. None is more furious than Narcisse's nasty and selfish daughter, Michelle Montour. The villagers are even more disturbed when newcomer Morgane Dubois arrives and opens a tattoo parlour where Narcisse's florist store once stood. Like Vianne years earlier, Morgane is met with suspicion in the conservative, Catholic village, including by its priest Reynaud.
Underpinning the story is the question of long-held and tortured secrets (including the secrets behind an untold murder), the challenge of accepting difference, and the relationships between parents and caregivers and their children. We come to understand the need to let them explore their own lives and experiences through the characters of Tante Anna and Naomi, Michelle and son Yannick, and Vianne and her daughters, Anouk and Rosette.
The Strawberry Thief is highly atmospheric and fables and folklore are sprinkled through the novel to provide understanding and lessons on life's circumstances.
I had the advantage of having seen (and adoring) the film before reading the novel. So I was thrilled to read a follow-up. While not essential, it gave a strong advantage of visualising the sense of place and the characters.
The voice and presence of the wind as the spirit of change is again a constant metaphor. The Strawberry Thief is successful in re-uniting us with the beautiful village life and its ecclectic characters and finish the story of those that we have grown to love. It reminds us to find and embrace our voice and our dreams, wherever they may lead us. And this is always a good reminder.
About the author Joanne Harris (MBE) was born in Barnsley in 1964, of a French mother and an English father. She studied Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge and was a teacher for fifteen years, during which time she published three novels, including Chocolat (1999).
Since then, she has written15 more novels, two novellas, two collections of short stories, a Dr Who novella, guest episodes for the game Zombies, Run, the libretti for two short operas, several screenplays, a musical and three cookbooks. Her books are now published in over 50 countries and have won a number of British and international awards.
She is an honorary Fellow of St Catharine's College, Cambridge, has honorary doctorates in literature from the universities of Sheffield and Huddersfield, and has been a judge for the Whitbread Prize, the Orange Prize, the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science, as well as for the Fragrance Foundation awards for perfume and perfume journalism (for which she also received an award in 2017) .