In this lusciously mystical novel, Vianne Rocher and her young daughter Anouk arrive in a small French village on Mardi Gras. Vianne, the daughter of a gypsy and a wanderer herself, sets up her chocolate shop during the most austere of Christian seasons, Lent, thus infuriating the local priest who knows his parishioners will struggle with their Lenten vows. Vianne turns out to be a not-so-ordinary shopkeeper, and Reynaud the priest is not the holy man he pretends. As Vianne befriends the down-trodden, including a band of gypsies, her force in the village becomes as powerful as Reynaud feared.
With its tantalizing descriptions, this book will have readers dreaming of the finest chocolates and confections. The language can be at times self-conscious and overblown, but the overall effect is mesmerizing, thanks to Harris's visual style and attention to detail. The biggest flaw of this otherwise skilled first novel is the unsatisfying ending and the one-dimensional way Vianne connects emotionally with the gypsies. These forced elements can be forgiven, however, given the moving lyricism of the rest.
CHOCOLAT is a beautiful but flawed work that offers much more than the average novel. If you haven't already read this and are a fan of magic realism, you should pick it up. You won't be disappointed.