Friday, November 23, 2012

Peaches for Monsieur le Cure - Joanne Harris

Peaches for Monsieur le Cure, by Joanne Harris, (or Peaches for Father Francis in the USA) is the third book in the Chocolat series following the life of Vianne Rocher. In this book we find Vianne being called back to the village and the people of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes. In the intervening eight years since her first adventure there in Chocolat, she has lived in Paris with her partner, Roux and two daughters, Anouk and Rosette. A mysterious letter from Armande Voisin arrives unexpectedly beckoning Vianne back to the place where she once set up a Chocolatiere and created the first Easter chocolate festival in what had once been a traditionally quiet, religious and conservative French village.

Vianne is haunted by the letter as her friend, Armande, has been dead for eight years and is now calling her from beyond the grave with a message of foreboding about the people and the village she was once so fond of. Filled with curiosity and dread, Vianne decides to take a trip back to Lansquenet to see for herself what has been happening and perhaps to uncover the meaning behind Armande’s words. Roux does not want to go with her and find things changed, yet again, so she sets off with Anouk and Rosette for the reunion she has put off for all these years.

Vianne’s reason for leaving Lansquenet in the first place was because of the conflict she encountered with the strictly catholic attitudes of some of the villagers and in particular, her nemesis, Father Raynard who inferred she was a witch and accused her of evil doings. Upon her return, she finds that Father Reynard has become slightly more liberal in his attitudes, not least of all because there is now a large Islamic community living in the neighbourhood.

Whilst relations between the Father Reynard and the leaders of the Muslim community, the Said family, have now deteriorated to the extreme, they were not always so fraught. When the immigrants from Morocco first arrived at Lansquenet a few years ago they were less traditional, but, recently things have changed. Now they have become very strict in their teachings and practices and insist the women adhere to wearing traditional dress. They have built a Mosque and call the men to prayer throughout the night and day. There is conflict between the old Catholic and the new Muslim communities and Father Francis has been accused of an arson attack on the Muslim school. It is left to Vianne to unravel what lies behind the tensions and who set fire to the school which had once been her Chocolatiere.

I loved reading the first book in this series, Chocolat. I was disappointed with the film which, whilst fairly entertaining, did not come close to showing us the magical undertones of the story and the intolerance which lies behind people’s beliefs and assumptions. The core essence of the story is of conflict and injustice and what love can do to break through those binds.

Joanne Harris goes back to the theme she was following in Chocolat but now adds in more things for us to assume and misjudge. She is masterful at building tension and intrigue in this story and on every page there is a question. Questions of faith; conflict; religious intolerance; the past; good; evil; tradition; conservativeness; liberalness; injustice; revenge; truth and lies abound. Behind a charming title lurks dark secrets and raging conflict. Assumptions and stereotypes are everywhere and as a result people’s lives have been and will be destroyed.

Peaches for Monsieur le Cure, is one of the best books I have read this year. I know I will read it again and again. If you want to snuggle up with a great book containing controversial topics viewed from many perspectives and catch up with some old friends at the same time, then this is the book for you. I cannot recommend it highly enough.


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