Third time a charm? My first two attempts at reading Joanne Harris's The Lollipop Shoes (The Girl with No Shadow here in the US) ended with the book being shuffled back into the TBR pile. This wasn't a reflection on the story rather my preference for not toting around a hardcover. It's a long walk to the bus stop when you're schlepping around a bookbag filled with all the day's accoutrements (including two or three books in my case). But I had to have the book when it first came out. Harris's Chocolat is one of my all-time favorite reads so I eagerly bought the sequel and then was afraid to start reading it in fear it would pale in comparison. Part of the reason I'm a dedicated library user is to avoid the trap I so obviously fell into here. Must have book when it is first released. Don't read book until it is long out in paperback. Will I never learn? But some books simply call out when they are published and Joanne Harris's books are for me just that sort.
Either I simply should not have worried or it was a matter of good timing, but I very much enjoyed The Lollipop Shoes. It perhaps lacked exactly the same charm and deft light touch as her first Vianne Rocher novel, but it seems a little unfair to compare the two too much. Same characters but different stories. The Lollipop Shoes has the same magical feel but is a darker story than the first book. Of course there's dark, and then there's Dark. The dark here is more like an intense dark chocolate with just a hint of red chile--a little bitter offset with a little red heat. It's not the brooding Dark that leaves you sunk into despair if you know what I mean.
I first read Chocolat in my very earliest days of blogging, so I never got around to properly posting about it (even with my later rereads--must rectify that someday), but if you've not read the book you may have seen the movie (a favorite movie of mine, too). You'll know all about the tiny village of Lansquenet where Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk arrive on the wings of the cold north wind. A wind they've followed from city to city--first Vianne with her own mother and then an adult Vianne with Anouk. Buttoned up Lansquenet isn't quite ready for the likes of Vianne in her colorful clothing or Anouk with her imaginary (or is he?) rabbit Pantoufle. And neither is the local curate approving of the chocolate shop she opens across from the church on the eve of Lent.
If Chocolat is about the transformative power of friendship and magic to change people's lives, The Lollipop Shoes is about the transformative power of love and magic on the lives of Vianne and Anouk, or Yanne, Annie and Rosette as they are known in Paris. All her life Vianne has tried to outrun the Black Man, who I consider to be the disapproving eyes of those who think "they know best". The wind always changes and Vianne escapes always with the Black Man on her tail. But maybe in Paris, such a large city where one can easily get lost and no one looks twice, can Yanne and her daughters lead normal lives like everyone else. They can be normal and conventional and not attract the attention of the Black Man, or the Kindly Ones. But they've not escaped notice of Zozie de L'Alba, which is perhaps worse.
It's four years later and Yanne's life is tempered by a more conventional outlook. Her chocolate shop is not the colorful La Celeste Praline of bygone days. Her copper pots and marble slab are stored in boxes and her chocolates are no longer lovingly made by hand but factory bought. Her shop in Montmartre is low key and barely scrapes by. The biggest change is to Yanne herself who is subdued, dresses in muted dark colors and is seeing Thierry le Tresset who is as predictable as he is staid and narrow minded. Perhaps it is the addition of Rosette, with her direct blue eyes and curly red hair, that has made Yanne choose a simpler life. A life that she wants to be as normal and steady as possible. Annie is in now at the Lycée, a changeable teenager, and Rosette the silent child who doesn't speak but has a language all her own. And Yanne, somewhat downtrodden but taking her pleasures as small as they are where and when she can. Her colorful aura has turned to gray.
Zozie de L'Alba is drawn to the chocolate shop, rather more drawn to Yanne. Zozie is young and effervescent in her red, high heeled shoes--the lollipop shoes as Annie thinks of them. Zozie, much like Yanne, is another traveller who moves with the wind. If Yanne seems to rely on the sort of magic dependent on the cards of the Tarot, much thumbed and read by her mother--and always carried in Yanne's box of memorabilia, Zozie's magic is filled with glamours and spells of the darker sort. Zozie is a stealer of lives and identities, and she has decided Yanne's life, subdued as it is, is worth taking and along with it, the very promising Annie. There's something seductive about Zozie, and maybe it's just the glamor she creates around herself, little more than a mask. But it's enough to fool Annie and even Yanne. For a while.
This is a classic tale of good versus evil. If Zozie comes into the lives of Yanne, Annie and Rosette and offers them them an alternative to the gray of their daily lives, especially attractive to young Annie, it's not through any real desire to befriend, encourage or support. Zozie constantly reinvents herself bringing a new breathe of life and vivacity and success into the lives of Yanne and her daughters, but there will be a cost unless Yanne can stop her first. Once again in her own inimitable style Joanne Harris has concocted an evocative world as desirable and delicious as the chocolates Yanne creates in her chocolate shop.
I'm looking forward to reading Peaches for Father Francis (Peaches for Monsieur le Curé in the UK) very soon. Vianne, Anouk and Rosette will be returning to Lansquenet and their adventure will continue. I can't wait.