April 27, 2008
The Girl With No Shadow
The Girl With No Shadow by Joanne Harris
2008 William Morrow (Harper Collins)
Finished on 4/15/08
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
Since she was a little girl, the wind has dictated every move Vianne Rocher has made, buffeting her from place to place, from the small French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes to the crowded streets of Paris. Cloaked in a new identity, that of widow Yanne Charbonneau, she opens a chocolaterie on a small Montmartre street, determined to still the wind at last and keep her daughters, Anouk and the baby, Rosette, safe.
Her new home above the chocolate shop offers calm and quiet: no red sachets hang by the door; no sparks of magic fill the air; no Indian skirts with bells hang in her closet. Conformity brings with it anonymity—and peace. There is even Thierry, the stolid businessman who wants to take care of Yanne and the children. On the cusp of adolescence, an increasingly rebellious and restless Anouk does not understand. But soon the weathervane turns . . . and into their lives blows the charming and enigmatic Zozie de l'Alba. And everything begins to change.
Zozie offers the brightness Yanne's life needs. Anouk, too, is dazzled by this vivacious woman with the lollipop-red shoes who seems to understand her better than anyone—especially her mother. Yet this friendship is not what it seems. Ruthless, devious, and seductive, Zozie has plans that will shake their world to pieces. And with everything she loves at stake, Yanne must face a difficult choice: Run, as she has done so many times before, or stand and confront this most dangerous enemy. . . .
It's been almost eight years since I first read Joanne Harris' Chocolat. I enjoyed that novel very much and went on to try a few more by Harris. I gave up on Blackberry Wine in 2005, but last April I read Five Quarters of the Orange and liked it probably as much as Chocolat. When I got an Advance Reader's Copy of The Girl With No Shadow (entitled The Lollipop Shoes in the UK), I was excited about giving it a read, but had some reservations. Harris seems to be a hit-or-miss with me. Well, I shouldn't have doubted her ability to write a winning sequel. This was just fabulous! I liked it even better than Chocolat. I was a little concerned that too much time has passed since reading the first book and wondered if I should go back and re-read Chocolat. But with so many other books to read, I really didn't want to take the additional time. I did consider renting the movie again, though, as it follows the book so closely. But after a chapter or two, I really didn't think it was necessary (unless, of course, you want to drool over Johnny Depp!) -- Harris does a fine job with the back-story.
Let's see if I can tempt you to read this wonderful book.
It's not easy being the daughter of a witch. Harder still being the mother of one. And after what happened at Les Laveuses I was faced with a choice. To tell the truth and condemn my children to the kind of life I'd always had: moving constantly from place to place; never stable; never secure; living out of suitcases; always running to beat the wind--
Or to lie, and to be like everyone else.
How to explain this to Roux, who fears nothing and cares for no one? To be a mother is to live in fear. Fear of death, of sickness, of loss, of accidents, of strangers, of the Black Man, or simply those small everyday things that somehow manage to hurt us most: the look of impatience, the angry word, the missed bedtime story, the forgotten kiss, the terrible moment when a mother ceases to be the center of her daughter's world and becomes just another satellite orbiting some less significant sun.
It has not happened—at least, not yet. But I see it in the other children; in the teenage girls with their sullen mouths and their mobile phones and their look of contempt at the world in general. I have disappointed her, I know that. I am not the mother she wants me to be. And at eleven, though bright, she is still too young to understand what I have sacrificed, and why.
Harris' mouthwatering descriptions made me reach for a mug of hot cocoa (Ghirardelli) and long for a trip to France:
But there's always time for hot chocolate, made with milk and grated nutmeg, vanilla, chilli, brown sugar, cardamom, and 70 percent couverture chocolate—the only chocolate worth buying, she says—and it tastes rich and just slightly bitter on the back of the tongue, like caramel as it begins to turn. The chilli gives it a touch of heat—never too much, just a taste—and the spices give it that churchy smell that reminds me of Lansquenet somehow, and of nights above the chocolate shop, just Maman and me, with Pantoufle sitting to one side and candles burning on the orange-box table.
As with Chocolat, I loved the setting in this book:
Montmartre is a village within the city—and remains deeply if dubiously nostalgic, with its narrow streets and old cafes and country-style cottages, complete with summer whitewash and fake shutters at the windows and bright geraniums in their terra-cotta pots. To the folk of Montmartre, marooned above a Paris simmering with change, it sometimes feels like the last village; a fleeting fragment of a time when things were sweeter and simpler; when doors were always left unlocked and any ills and injuries could be cured with a square of chocolate--
I also love the details that made it so easy to envision a room or character:
First, I see her catch the scent. It's a combination of many things; the Christmas tree in the corner; the musty aroma of old house; orange and clove; ground coffee; hot milk; patchouli; cinnamon—and chocolate of course; intoxicating, rich as Croesus, dark as death.
She looks around, sees wall hangings, pictures, bells, ornaments, a doll-house in the window, rugs on the floor—all in chrome yellow and fuchsia-pink and scarlet and gold and green and white. It's like an opium den in here, she almost says, then wonders herself for being so fanciful. In fact she has never seen an opium den—unless it was in the pages of the Arabian Nights—but there's something about the place, she thinks. Something almost—magical.
This sequel doesn't have quite as many tantalizing descriptions as Chocolat and it has a much more sinister feel to it, but it's certainly a winner in my book. I couldn't put it down and when I wasn't reading it, I was constantly thinking about the characters, curious to see how it'd all play out. Harris is definitely not the hit-or-miss author I thought she was!