You could rent the movie, of course, and a very lovely movie it is indeed, but something is lacking, a touch of magic that only words can express, perhaps. The images that Joanne Harris' words conjure up in your mind, with each intoxicating description of Vianne's chocolate shop and the creations within, are beyond anything that could be recorded on film. You are left to imagine the taste of hot chocolate sparked with the slow fire of Kahlua, or doused with the cool sweetness of a crème Chantilly and the crunch of chocolate curls. Imagine her shop with its rows of boxes and little bags and cornets tied with long curls of ribbon, heaping piles of chocolates and sweets under glass bells, held aloft in their dishes, proffered up like so much gleaming treasure. It makes me hungry. (Fortunately, I have a bag of chocolate-covered honey pecans at my side, each sweet covered in powdered sugar that scatters white dust wherever I go).
From the opening pages and the description of Vianne and Anouk's arrival to the town of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes on Shrove Tuesday, with the carnival bringing the "hot greasy scents of frying pancakes and sausages and powdery-sweet waffles cooked on the hot plate right there by the roadside," I can almost smell the melting butter and that warm, sweet perfume of browning batter and see the mad joy of the carnival against the drabness of this tiny town, "no more than a blip on the fast road between Toulouse and Bordeaux." With the way Harris uses words to describe everything she lays before us, the daughter whose hair is a cotton-candy tangle in the wind, whose eyes are the blue-green of the earth seen from a great height, everything seems more real than anything real, something I could reach out and touch with my hand.
There is more to the story than chocolate, of course; there are the battles between the shopkeeper, Vianne, whose sweets tempt the villagers from their Lenten fasts, and the curé Reynaud, who would remind them that they should abstain, between the villagers and the wandering gypsies docked by the river on their boats, led by the stubborn Roux, between Josephine and her loutish husband, until at last Josephine breaks free. Between the elderly free-spirit Armande and her uptight daughter Caroline. Between Vianne and the memory of her mother, and her mother's wandering spirit which led Vianne all over the world, never growing roots, never standing still. In the future, will Vianne and Anouk have that same battle, or has Vianne at last found something enduring in this little blip of a town?
In her shop Vianne sells dreams, small comforts, sweet harmless temptations to bring down a multitude of saints crash-crash-crashing among the hazels and nougatines...And when I read her story I dream of these small comforts and sweet harmless temptations, I dream of reaching my hand out to the small bag of chocolates on the nightstand, the taste and dark rush of chocolate that goes to my head the way words slide around in my mind and make it spin, I dream of walking into a shop whose shelves are filled with sweets, presided over by a beautiful witch-woman whose hair blows loose around her shoulders, who whispers to me, I know which ones are your favorites. And I wake, and they are beside me.