One of my all-time favorite reads is Chocolat by Joanne Harris. I have read the book multiple times and am returning to it once again now. It is a comfort read for me, but I also think it is a wonderful example of really good storytelling. The story is so lush and vibrant and magical in all senses of the word. For me the story itself is magical (it makes me feel all warm and happy inside), but there are also magical elements to it since Vianne Rocher, the story's protagonist has magical/transformative abilities.
I like to read it at this time of year. Not only am I tiring of winter and in need of a good comfort read, but the story opens on "Fat Tuesday", the day before the first day of Lent. Vianne and her daughter Anouk have arrived in the small village of Lansquenet. It was their version of Carnival, complete with parade and candies showering down on the village children that made them stop. The pair are modern day gypsies--never staying too long in one place. So this week I added Chocolat to my reading pile for a nice leisurely visit once again to Lansquenet. February in France sounds quite inviting and charming and just what I need to see me through the end of winter.
So, now I shall share a little teaser with you, and if you have not yet had the pleasure of reading Joanne Harris or this book, you can get a taste of her lovely prose.
"February 11, Shrove Tuesday"
"We came on the wind of the carnival. A warm wind for February, laden with the hot greasy scents of frying pancakes and sausages and powdery-sweet waffles cooked on the hot plate right there by the roadside, with the confetti sleeting down collars and cuffs and rolling in the gutters like an idiot antidote to winter. There is a febrile excitement to the crowds that line the narrow street, necks craning to catch sight of the crepe-covered char with its trailing ribbons and paper rosettes. Anouk watches, eyes wide, a yellow balloon in one hand and a toy trumpet in the other, from between a shopping basket and a sad brown dog. We have seen carnivals before, she and I; a procession of two hundred and fifty of the decorated chars in Paris last Mardi Gras, a hundred and eighty in New York, two dozen marching bands in Vienna, clowns on stilts, the Grosses Têtes with their lolling papier-maché heads, drum majorettes with batons spinning and sparkling. But at six the world retains a special luster. A wooden cart, hastily decorated with gilt and crêpe, and scenes from fairy tales. A dragon's head on a shield, Rapunzel in a wooden wig, a mermaid with a cellophane tail, a gingerbread house all icing and gilded cardboard, a witch in the doorway, waggling extravagant green fingernails at a group of silent children . . . At six it is possible to perceive subtleties that a year later are already out of reach. Behind the papier-maché, the icing, the plastic, she can still see the real witch, the real magic. She looks up at me, her eyes, which are the blue-green of Earth seen from a great height, shining."
I love this opening page. I can see it all so well and for a while, as I immerse myself in the story, I feel that magic, the real magic--just like Anouk. And with the progress of the story and the progress of Lent towards Easter, is also the promise of Spring on the horizon! Now that is a magical idea, indeed!