April 15, 2007
Five Quarters of the Orange
Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris
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.