13/07/2008

The Lollipop Shoes (by Joanne Harris)

I've been reading Joanne Harris's books for a few years, now. I very much enjoyed her three food-related novels, set mainly in villages in France. I've been slightly concerned at the increasingly occult feel to some of her more recent books, but she is such a good writer that I've continued reading, and was pleased to be given this one as a present recently.

'The Lollipop Shoes' is actually a sequel to Harris's first and best-known novel 'Chocolat'. Vianne Rocher, who is now known as Yanne Charbonneau, owns a small chocolaterie in a suburb of Paris. However, it's rather run-down, and not very successful. Her daughter Anouk - now known as Annie - is eleven, and she has another daughter, three-year-old Rosette. Rosette does not speak at all, although she communicates well in sign language.

Into their lives breezes Zozie, an outgoing and vibrant young woman, who is very taken with Anouk. However, the reader already knows from the prologue that Zozie is not who she says she is; she is a collector of identities. She goes cold-bloodedly through life collecting information about people who have died, taking on both their characters and their bank accounts for a while, before moving on. She is clearly a dangerous person, although this is not at all obvious to those who meet her. Zozie is, above all things, an excellent actress.

The story is told from three first-person perspectives: Zozie, Vianne and Anouk, in different sections. It works extremely well, seeing events from their very different viewpoints.

This novel has much more of a strongly occult thread than the previous novels, although not quite sufficient to make me stop reading. Vianne and Anouk have given up their incantations and tarot readings, although they remain afraid of unknown forces who may catch up with them, and of invoking wrath and negative karma.

However, Zozie, similarly gifted, has no such qualms. She determines, moreover, to draw Anouk into her web, starting by encouraging her to take revenge on some unpleasant classmates in her school, and then building voodoo dolls to change her environment.

As the book progresses, it becomes a clear battle of good against evil, increasingly dark in places. Anouk is torn between her mother and Zozie; at the same time Vianne is torn between the wealthy but dull man - her landlord - who wants to marry her, and Roux, whom she once loved with passion.

'The Lollipop Shoes' is full of symbolism and stories, and very well written. I was pleased that the ending was more reassuring than it could have been, with a good low-key message about the importance of standing up to bullies, making the most of oneself, and also avoiding any occultic influences.

All in all, I enjoyed it.

NB - this book is known as 'The Girl with No Shadow' in the USA.


Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 13th July 2007

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