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4.1 out of 5 stars 71 customer reviews

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Paperback, 2002
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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: BLACK SWAN (2002)
  • ISBN-10: 0552998842
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552998840
  • Product Dimensions: 20.1 x 13.5 x 2.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 386 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars 71 customer reviews
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First Sentence
When my mother died she left the farm to my brother, Cassis, the fortune in the wine cellar to my sister, Reine-Claude, and to me, the youngest, her album and a two-liter jar containing a single black Perigord truffle, large as a tennis ball, suspended in sunflower oil, that, when uncorked, still releases the rich dank perfume of the forest floor. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Format: Paperback
This is a novel in two parts: a childhood in occupied France and a return to the same village in old age. One part struggles for a story and the other reads like the novel is should be.
Joanne Harris has written a novel about secrets that were buried in the past but come to the surface in the present by a daughter's inheritance of her mother's obscure cook book and journal. It is about the relationship of a single mother, her three children, and a German soldier who befriends Framboise, the heroine. Like all war stories, this relationship with the enemy ends in tragedy.
The present day sections of the novel flow quickly and the character of Framboise is of more interest as she discovers there is more to her mother's treasured cookbook than recipes. The author nicely connects the coded journal notes to the village in the past but I found these sections about fishing in the Loire and buying on the black market rather slow and undramatic, especially when compared to a similar but greater novel like Suite Francaise.
This is a book with much potential and I wished it had been written slightly different, perhaps spending more time on the three siblings relationship after the war. As children they are not that interesting, except for Franboise misunderstanding of her mother. This is captured in the title, the scent of orange that drives the mother to have crippling migraines because the daughter has hidden the peel in the house.
Yet I liked this novel, and as a cook, was intrigued by the culinary references. However, it does not inspire me to read more by the author.
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Format: Paperback
Mirabelle Dartigen is a brilliant cook whose legacy to her daughter Framboise is her talent and a notebook containing her recipes. She is also a widow who is plagued by blinding migraine headaches, and addicted to the morphine she needs to survive them. These debilitating, crippling headaches are always preceded by the smell of oranges, so she will not permit an orange in her house.
Tormented by pain, drug addiction and mental illness, Mirabelle attempts to raise three children alone in war torn France after her husband is killed by the Germans. She is not up to the task, physically or mentally, and the children are left to raise themselves.
Framboise, wild to begin with, has hardened toward her mother, whose afflictions have made her distant, mean and unapproachable. In order to ensure that her mother doesn't interfere with her plans, which alternately involve telling the town's secrets to a charismatic German who brings her and her siblings presents, and trying to catch a giant pike thought to grant any wish to whomever catches it (and to bring tragedy upon anyone who sees it without catching it), Framboise steals an orange and places it in her mother's pillow in order to trigger one of her migraines.
Throughout the book, she uses oranges to control her mother, who reacts to the odor by shutting herself into her room for days in screaming, sleepless pain, while the children fend for themselves, and do as they wish.
Years later, the elderly Framboise, looking back and reading through her mother's diary-like notebook, gains some insight into the woman's agony and her own part in it.
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Format: Paperback
I liked "Chcolat" and therefore it was with anticipated pleasure that I began this book. It is quite well written, and the characters are well defined, and there is the pleasures of childhood in the French countryside all nicely laid out before us. But it isn't long before the allure of the story gives way to its much darker nature. There are the broader themes of the WW2 French resistance and German collaborators interwoven with the childhood memories, and how our heroine, now an elderly widow, strives to remain anonymous in a town that still despises her family because of its involvement in these matters so long ago.
It is this darkness that makes me give this book 3 stars when I might have rated it higher. The idyllic childhood is nothing of the sort - the children are neglected by their ailing widowed mother, and they quickly become infatuated with the Germans and the thrills of being involved with them in what they think is harmless fun, but secretly know to be otherwise. Our heroine is actually quite a spiteful and manipulative little girl, and although she interseperses her memories with pity for her mother, this doesn't take the edge off that spite. And even though our heroine improves with age, the current day characters of her nephew and his wife take on that continuing unpleasant role.
The novel also takes its time getting to the truth that is the core of that darkness and the reason our heroine wishes to remain anonymous. When I finally got there I was almost beyond caring about it, and I was frankly disappointed that I was able to work out what happened even before the event finally was revealed. What should have been the most suspenseful part of the book fell way short of expectations.
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