18/03/2013

Peaches for M le Curé (by Joanne Harris)

It’s over seven years since I first came across Joanne Harris. I read her debut novel ‘Chocolat’, set in a small French town called Lansquenet, after reading several enthusiastic reviews. I liked it, on the whole, and often wondered vaguely what happened to Vianne, the chocolate-making and rather mystical heroine, not to mention the people whose lives she affected so deeply. A couple of years later I read ‘The Lollipop Shoes’ which purported to be a sequel, but really stood alone. It was set in Paris and rather different in style. I liked it, too, but somehow it did not feel as if it involved the same people.

So I was very pleased to read ‘Peaches for Monsier Le Curé’, whch turns out to be a true sequel to 'Chocolat'.  Vianne receives an unexpected letter, and decides that she might as well make a visit to Lansquenet with her teenage daughter Anouk and her six-year-old Rosette. They stay in an empty house which belonged to an old friend, and gradually find themselves deeply involved in the lives of people in the town.

Things have moved on in the eight years since Vianne left. There’s quite a community of Muslims, who are involved in various feuds. A young man, who married one of the girls, is trying to insist that they should all wear the traditional veils... yet he seems quite progressive in other ways. And then there’s the woman in black, Ines, who was running a school for Muslim girls until it was burned down...

While the story is mainly written from Vianne’s perspective, there are some sections written from the point of view of Father Reynaud, her old adversary, who has been accused of arson. Both viewpoints are in the first person, and this confused me slightly at first. However, it works well, and is a clever way of giving insight into their minds, along with the growing realisation that they are not so different from each other after all.

The book is full of mysteries and questions which are gradually answered, along with some quite suspenseful plot lines which made it difficult for me to put the book down at times. As with ‘Chocolat’, there’s a mystical element running through the story but I didn't find it disturbing.  Whereas some of Joanne Harris’s books have been really too dark for my taste, this one felt much lighter. There's some intriguing and sensitive commentary about both religious and cultural differences between different groups.

It’s quite a long book, over 500 pages and took me a while to get into, but the writing is excellent and  I liked it very much. I would recommend reading this as a sequel to ‘Chocolat’; although it stands alone, there are references to prior events, some of which would be harder to understand without having read the first book. However, I don’t think its at all necessary to have read ‘The Lollipop Shoes’.

Recommended.

Note that this appears to have been re-named 'Peaches for Father Francis' in some American editions. This book is available on Kindle as well as in paperback.

You can also read my longer review of 'Peaches for M le Curé' at the Bookbag site. 

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