April 15, 2007

Five Quarters of the Orange

Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris
Contemporary Fiction
Finished on 4/13/07
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)
2007 TBR Challenge #4

I had been back for almost six years when I opened the crêperie. By then I had money set aside, custom, acceptance. I had a boy working for me on the farm - a boy from Courlé, not from one of the Families - and I took on a girl to help with the service. I started with only five tables - the trick has always been to think small at first, to avoid alarming people - but eventually I had double that, plus what I could fit on the terrasse in front on fine days. I kept it simple. My menu was limited to buckwheat pancakes with a choice of fillings, plus one main dish every day and a selection of desserts. That way I could handle the cooking myself, leaving Lise to take the orders. I called the Place Crêpe Framboise after the house specialty, a sweet pancake with raspberry coulis and my homemade liqueur, and I smiled a little to myself, thinking of their reaction if they could have known... Several of my regulars even came to calling the place Chez Framboise, which made me smile all the more.

It's been almost exactly seven years since I read Harris' novel, Chocolat. I didn't write much about that particular book in my reading journal -- only noting that it was "pretty good" and advising against reading if hungry, as my mouth didn't stop watering the entire time I was reading. Five Quarters of the Orange is another that offers tantalizing descriptions of meals and ingredients, yet not quite as prominently as in Chocolat.

Perhaps that was why she gave me the album, valueless then except for the thoughts and insights jotted in the margins alongside recipes and newspaper cuttings and herbal cures. Not a diary, precisely. There are almost no dates in the album, no precise order. Pages were inserted into it at random, loose leaves later bound together with small, obsessive stitches, some pages thin as onionskin, others cut from pieces of card trimmed to fit inside the battered leather cover. My mother marked the events of her life with recipes, dishes of her own invention or interpretations of old favorites. Food was her nostalgia, her celebration, its nurture and preparation the sole outlet for her creativity. The first page is given to my father's death - the ribbon of his Légion d'Honneur pasted thickly to the paper beneath a blurry photograph and a neat recipe for black buckwheat pancakes - and carries a kind of gruesome humor. Under the picture my mother has penciled Remember - dig up Jerusalem artichokes. Ha! Ha! Ha! in red.

Five Quarters of the Orange was enjoyable enough and I was eager to see how things would turn out for Framboise, yet none of the characters felt fully realized. The only one I came to care about was nine-year-old Framboise (who reminded me of Ian McEwan's Briony from Atonement). All the other characters (primary and supporting) were flat and unremarkable.

While I'm not sorry I read the book, I doubt I'll bother with any other novels by Joanne Harris. In 2005, I gave up on Blackberry Wine after only a few chapters. Nothing has impressed me quite like Chocolate. Having said that, my curiosity was piqued when I discovered the enticing descriptions for Harris' two cookbooks: My French Kitchen: A Book of 120 Treasured Recipes and The French Market: More Recipes From a French Kitchen. They sound absolutely lovely.

Oh, dear. I just discovered a new novel (The Lollipop Shoes) by Harris is due for publication on May 10th. It sounds intriguing!

“Who died?” I said. “Or is it a secret?”

“My mother. Vianne Rocher.”

Seeking refuge and anonymity in the cobbled streets of Montmartre, Yanne and her daughters, Rosette and Annie, live peacefully, if not happily, above their little chocolate shop. Nothing unusual marks them out; no red sachets hang by the door. The wind has stopped – at least, for a while. Then into their lives blows Zozie de l’Alba, the lady with the lollipop shoes, and everything begins to change…

But this new friendship is not what it seems. Ruthless, devious and seductive, Zozie de l’Alba has plans of her own – plans that will shake their world to pieces. And with everything she loves at stake, Yanne must face a difficult choice; to flee, as she has done so many times before, or to confront her most dangerous enemy...


Recognize the name Vianne Rocher? She's the main character in Chocolat. How can I resist? For further details, go here.


  1. I never quite know how to react to a Joanne Harris novel--I liked Chocolat, couldn't get beyond the first few pages of Coastliners or Blackberry Wine. The descriptions always draw me in, but then I'm left wondering why. That said, "Faith and Hope Go Shopping," the first story in Jigs and Reels, is an all time favorite short story for me.

    Five Quarters of the Orange is one of those books that's always trying to make it closer to the top of Mt. TBR, but some other title always knocks it out of contention. Your review may be enough to give it an upward boost in the pile!

  2. Intriguing indeed! I thought Vianne was the one from Chocolat. I need to bump some of Harris's stuff up on my TBR or I'll never get around to them.

  3. I didn't read Chocolat, but you convince me to. Didn't care for Five Quarters, but did enjoy Gentlemen and Players.

  4. I agree with Booklogged, Gentlemen and Players is a good read: I stayed up almost all night to finish it. Totally different from all her other novels.

  5. Thanks for the link. I love author websites. Must read Harris someday.

  6. Anonymous1:47 PM

    It seems to be hit or miss for me with Joanne Harris. I absolutely loved Chocolat and enjoyed Sleep, Pale Sister but I couldn't get into this book or Blackberry Wine. And, I have no idea what to think about the sequel to Chocolat. My first thought is leave it alone! But, I'll probably look for it anyway :)

  7. Oh, man, I can't address this book for not having read it. But, Atonement? Briony? She's the only character I've ever "known" who made me want to slap her. Hard. I was so infuriated at her manipulative, ignorant, intervention. Everyone else in my book club thought she was just being a thirteen year old. But I think even adolescents know when they're ruining others' lives. You've intrigued me with this book; I'll have to pick it up.

  8. p.s. Chocolat was one of the few movies I enjoyed better than the book. Vivian was great in that film! (Not to mention Depp. Sigh...)

  9. I don't really like her novels, apart from Chocolat. I am really looking forward to her newby though..

    I actually really liked the movie too.

    If you like Chocolat, you might like a book called Crescent. Its about an Iranian-cook in America, and is absolutely delightful. Better than Chocolat, in my opinion. I still think about it a lot.

  10. Anonymous8:10 PM

    I loved Chocolat and am reading and enjoying Gentlemen and Players. I can't wait for her new one!!

  11. I said something like this (in the lost post) ...

    I LOVED Gentlemen and Players, but have heard that all her other books are much different so I never attempted another one. I want to check into her new one and see what that's all about. I'm hopin' for a good one.

  12. Marcia - Yes! She's one of those authors I'm not sure how to react to. Maybe a little like Margaret Atwood. Not necessarily in style or content, but just that I'm never quite sure if I like her writing. I'll have to look for that short story in Jigs and Reels. Thanks.

    Andi - It'll be interesting to see how well this "sequel" to Chocolat does. Hmm, maybe they'll make another movie with Johnny Depp!

    Booklogged - Chocolat is definitely worthwhile. I keep hearing good things about Gentlemen and Players, so maybe I'll have to give that one a go, too.

    LazyCow - Thanks for the rec. I'll add it to my TBR list.

    Kookiejar - She has a nice website. I have tons of authors' sites bookmarked, but rarely go back to look at them. Might be a fun Thursday Thirteen item...

    Iliana - Yep, she's one of those "hit and miss" authors. I don't know anything about Sleep, Pale Sister, but I'll take a look at it tomorrow at work. Thanks!

    Bellezza - I just found out that a movie of Atonement is coming out soon! I may have to read the book again before I see the film. I'm not sure how I feel about Briony. Whether she was manipulative & ignorant or just an irresponsible, naive thirteen-year-old. And, yep, the movie of Chocolat was wonderful. Anything with Johnny Depp can't be all that bad. ;)

    be_zen8 - Thanks for the recommendation. I'll have to check it out at work tomorrow. Sounds interesting!

    Danielle - Glad to hear you're enjoying G&P. Seems to be a winner amongst several bloggers. I'll have to give it a try.

    Joy - And yet another recommendation for G&P. Everyone seems to think well of this book! Thanks.

  13. Anonymous7:33 PM

    I have this one on my TBR shelf, along with a couple others of hers. I enjoyed Blackberry Wine (didn't love it, but liked it well enough), absolutely HATED Holy Fools and quite liked Sleep, Pale Sister (very different vibe from her other books). I've heard Gentlemen and Players is different and good as well - that's another one I haven't read yet.

  14. Lesley - I think I'll skip Holy Fools, but I do want to give Gentlemen and Players a try sometime. I just won't rush out for a copy anytime soon since she runs hot & cold with me.


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