Book Review: The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris

Joanne Harris takes the reader back to Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, and the now accepted chocolatier, Vianne Rocher, continuing to practice her own brand of chocolate magic. How things have changed, even Francis Reynaud, the priest, once her fiercest critic is now a friend. Vianne has lost her summer child, Anouk, to Paris and the man she has fallen in love with. She finds some comfort that her winter child, the special Rosette will never leave her. Rosette doesn’t attend school, does not speak, has a companion that only few can see, Bam, the monkey, and has a special gift for art and drawing. Snow makes an unexpected appearance, and the winds of change are blowing, heralding death, unstoppable chaos and a confrontation between different forms of powerful magic, that of chocolate and ink. Vianne has a desperate sense of foreboding, the tarot cards, Death, The Fool and The Tower, promise a future that is to test and challenge her.

The death of Narcisse, the florist, triggers conflict and the entry of a newcomer with no feet taking over his shop premises. The mysterious Morgane and her reception by the village carries uncanny echoes of Vianne’s experiences on first settling in the village. Whilst many do not get Rosette and belittle her, Narcisse becomes close to the child after catching her stealing strawberries. He bequeaths his wood to Rosette, the strawberry thief, to be held in trust for her until she is of age. Whilst Rosette is overjoyed, Narcisse’s daughter is less than happy, looking for ways to challenge the bequest. Narcisse had rejected the church and was not fond of Reynaud, but he leaves behind a confession for Reynaud that tells of his heartbreaking background and history, particularly his close relationship with his beloved sister, Mimi, afflicted with seizures. Reynaud carries a heavy burden of guilt from his actions as a child that had such tragic outcomes, events he has never dared to speak of, which he is certain will see him roundly condemned by all. He is afraid that Narcisse knew of his secret. Morgane appears to wield a power over the community and Rosette that makes Vianne so afraid that she will do anything to make her leave.

Joanne Harris is a remarkably beguiling storyteller, infusing dark fairytales in the narrative, of Rosette, the snow child, with her own magic, her ‘accidents’, and her ability to influence the winds. She focuses on human insecurities, frailties and fears, of a casting of magic that disturbs the natural order of things and how natural forces will inexorably topple such unnaturalness. The magic of ink takes hold of a village and community, giving them what they need rather than what they want, including the mark of Cain, and with it comes the inevitable changes that life brings. This is a beautifully written and immersive read, and it is such a pleasure to return to this village and all its diverse characters, even the unlikeable ones! If you are drawn to the whimsical, the bewitching, and glorious storytelling, then this is a novel for you. Highly recommended! Many thanks to Orion for an ARC.

Vianne Rocher has settled down. Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, the place that once rejected her, has finally become her home. With Rosette, her ‘special’ child, she runs her chocolate shop in the square, talks to her friends on the river, is part of the community. Even Reynaud, the priest, has become a friend.

But when old Narcisse, the florist, dies, leaving a parcel of land to Rosette and a written confession to Reynaud, the life of the sleepy village is once more thrown into disarray. The arrival of Narcisse’s relatives, the departure of an old friend and the opening of a mysterious new shop in the place of the florist’s across the square – one that mirrors the chocolaterie, and has a strange appeal of its own – all seem to herald some kind of change: a confrontation, a turbulence – even, perhaps, a murder…

The 4th – and nominally the last – book in the “Chocolat” series, this follows the Peaches for Monsier Le Cure book previously reviewed on this blog. The writing style has changed slightly, so there are now multiple voices – Vianne, Reynard (Le Cure) and Rosette (BAM! from previous books) in particular.

Vianne still has the Chocolate Shop and continues to feel uncertain, even when she has been accepted; Anouk is now in Paris, coming back to Lansquenet with a secret, just in time to share it for Easter; Reynaud is still haunted by what he believes is true (and we get to hear more of how and why he fears the boat people).

Vianne still believes that her “winter child” (Rosette) – the one who rarely speaks – will stay with her forever. Meanwhile Narcisse dies, leaving various legacies to people – most of his estate to his daughter; his strawberry patch to Rosette (the Strawberry Thief of the title); and a confession (of sorts) to Reynard…..the latter which goes around various people of the community, so we all get to hear a peace.

Narcisse has left a “confession” for after his death that is essentially a history of why he is a bit of a git.  This narrative/diary is read mainly by Le Cure, but, as part of the story, is passed around various characters in the story.

Meanwhile, the florist’s shop is let, to a tattooist called Morgane (her of the two artificial feet). She reminds Vianne too much of the usurper she encountered in The Lollipop Shoes, and therefore Vianne doesnt trust her, especially when Rosette seems all too enamored of the new woman across the street.

So the story has multiple threads, and multiple timelines for what is, essentially, an entwined story. Everyone is important. All threads come together (I wont provide spoilers so I will be knowingly vague). In essence: i enjoyed this book, especially as part of a series. It can be read on it’s own, but is always helpful to read in order/context

 

FYI the “Strawberry Thief” is referred to in the book as a design by William Morris, and more information (Including an image) can be found here

 

 

 

 

 

 

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