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on June 25, 2009
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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on July 19, 2004
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. She has returned to her home after decades, hiding her identity from her town, which remembers her family as conspirators with the Nazis, and responsible for the murder of a German and the execution of several townsfolk. She lives among them because it is her home, but is terrified that she will be found out and recognized as "Mirabelle Dartigen's daughter".
The book alternates between the nine-year old Framboise, and the elderly Framboise. It also follows two dramas, the one during WWII where her and her siblings' best friend is a Nazi who trades chocolate for secrets, and the present day where one of her relatives is blackmailing her and threatening to expose her.
The complexity of the relationships and the characters is outstanding, and the story's suspense keeps building and building. The writing is excellent. This isn't a book to read if you're in the mood for something light. Pick this up in your deeper moments when you can shift into Framboise's dark world, which seems all the more frightening because it all seems so plausible.
Excellent book.
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on September 19, 2001
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.
So all in all this was a novel that had a fascinating and complex idea, dealing with issues that are still sensitive today. However, it somehow misses the mark, and whereas it was an interesting and quite well written read, it left me feeling vaguely uncomfortable, and I'm not sure whether or not I enjoyed it.
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on June 14, 2001
This book sucked majorly. I'm sorry. If you think that informing on your Jewish neighbors to the Nazi occupying forces in your village is child's play, then maybe you will think that this is an okay book. I found nothing redeeming about that. The book is based on a premise that some readers will romanticize morphine addiction. This was one reader who didn't. The book magnifies the dysfunctional relationship of a mother and daughter and the plot alludes to a mystery being revealed toward the end (with movie offer fanfare, no less) but lacks coherence to evoke sympathy in this reader at least, or to draw compassion for such an uncompassionate group of characters. The Resistance movement against fascism and Nazism is alluded to in the book and what is particularly disappointing about the ending is that resistance is pronounced futile, which I found extremely irresponsible. To set the historical record straight, I would like to remind readers that the Resistance movement in Europe did much to stand against Nazism and fascism, and unless you were interested in dying in a concentration camp, Resistance was a good thing. This book is a disappointment that will only sneak by apolitical readers who were asleep during this century or have no concept of history.
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on June 25, 2001
Because Harris wrote a book that Hollywood turned into a pretty fair romance - Chocolat - people now seem to think she is a "good writer." Five Quarters of the Orange is poorly writen. Actually, all of Joanne Harris' books are poorly written. Although the ideas behind them are somewhat imaginative, the tedious style and self involved characters spoil the read. Five Quarters of the Orange is full of spiteful, sick, egotistical people who are totally unlikeable. Framboise Simon continually boasts of her strong and independent nature with sayings such as "I had never liked to be touched." She is a cold and hateful person - as are most of the characters in this story. If one wants magic, better to stick with Alice Hoffman!
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on July 19, 2004
Mirabelle Dartigen is a brilliant chef 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 catching a giant pike thought to grant any wish to whomever catches 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. She has returned to her home after decades, hiding her identity from her town, which remembers her family as conspirators with the Nazis, and responsible for the murder of a German and the execution of several townsfolk. She lives among them because it is her home, but is terrified that she will be found out and recognized as "Mirabelle Dartigen's daughter".
The book alternates between the nine-year old Framboise, and the elderly Framboise. It also follows two dramas, the one during WWII where her and her siblings' best friend is a Nazi who trades chocolate for secrets, and the present day where one of her relatives is blackmailing her and threatening to expose her.
The complexity of the relationships and the characters is outstanding, and the story's suspense keeps building and building. The writing is excellent. This isn't a book to read if you're in the mood for something light. Pick this up in your deeper moments when you can shift into Framboise's dark world, which seems all the more frightening because it all seems so plausible.
Excellent book.
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on June 16, 2004
Framboise returns to the village of her youth as an old woman, unrecognizable because of her age and using a different first name along with her married name. None of the villagers connect her, a 65 year old widow, respectable though peculiar, with the skinny kid that was run out of the village with her mother and two siblings some fifty years prior. She's Mirabelle Dartigen's daughter. . . if they only knew.
In her return "home" Boise must face the past and sort out what happened to her enigmatic mother. The album, with it's clippings and cryptic writing, leads her to discoveries about her mother that shock her and change her whole view of who her mother was.
At the same time, Boise relives her own life, especially that pivotal summer. This, side by side with her discoveries from the album, form a full picture of what did happen, answer some of her questions and give the reader a story told in patchwork that, when fit together, makes a lovely quilt of story.
The story is told in the first person, going back and forth from Boise's childhood to her current struggle with first the village and then her relatives. It transitions smoothly, the story is firm and real--and like the oranges that play such a crucial role, the scent of the story lingers for some time after the reading.
The main plot was a well-used one, and as such disappointed me a bit. Harris managed to make up for that, though, with her style which kept me intrigued even during the most obvious bits. Over all the novel was a good one and I look forward to reading for her other two novels.
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on April 15, 2004
What to say about a well written, interesting novel, full of compelling subject matter, evocative passages, genuine emotion and thoroughly dislikeable characters? The themes of wartime occupation, collaboration, and resistance as seen through the eyes of children is unique and moving.
My problem lies with the characters themselves, it was difficult to sympathize with any of them even through their times of hardship and tragedy. Mirabelle the cruel, migraine prone mother was a bitter shell of a woman. Framboise, far too calculating and spiteful even in light of the harsh treatment meted out to her by her mother. The siblings never held my interest and were left rather underdeveloped. I did think the plot twist near the end was well done, although again it did nothing but reinforce my lack of affection for the siblings.
As a small aside, another reviewer commented on the silly names of the characters and I would have to agree. As someone who lives in a English and French speaking country I have never heard of Francophone's with these type of bizarre names. It also seemed odd that someone with the strange name of Framboise would then name her own children with goofy food names (after nuts no less), when she was so desperate to remain anonymous. Not a bad book, but for me it's hard to love a book and not care about the characters. 3.5 stars.
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on September 8, 2003
This is Joanne Harris's best so far. It is the story of the seclusive Framboise whose memories and traumas from the war awaken when she returns to the French village she once lived in and inherits her mother's diary and cookbook.
The flashbacks here occupy whole and separate sections of the book, as does the present, a clever idea of Harris, since her last book "Blackberry Wine", was so tiring in that field (and others).
Harris describes the times and places in every detail, which is good when it creates a very real atmosphere and bad when it occupies whole pages with the description of trees.
There are some very original ideas here (Old Mother, the wish, Tomas Leibniz's relationship with Framboise's family, the revelations in the mother's diary), and some very surprising, and multi-aspected characters, my personal favorite being Mirabelle Dartigen.
War, love, relationships and a bit of good old French cuisine.
The first half of the book may be a bit tiring and occasionaly pointless, but it evolves to something truly magical and somewhat darker than her other novels.
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on June 23, 2003
First things first: the writing in this novel is absolutely breathtaking. Harris's descriptions of the French countryside, the native cuisine, even the shabby little farmhouse are to be read slowly, savored and read again. Reading this novel is almost like reading a beautiful love song to France.
Apart from the beautiful setting, there are really two, amazing intertwined stories unfolding before the reader's eyes. One, set in modern times, is the tale of a 65-year-old Framboise, who returns to her childhood farmhouse after a long exile. She opens a wonderful creperie but keeps to herself, afraid of alerting the townfolk to the fact that she is the same Framboise who left the town in disgrace with her family when she was nine years old.
The second tale tells the source of that disgrace. It is told through the eyes of nine-year-old Framboise during a summer of Nazi occupation of France. She and her siblings befriend a German soldier and tragedy unfolds.
The novel jumps from one of these stories to another. The always constant elements are that of Framboise's mother's wonderful recipes. Through these recipes we learn of Framboise's mother's character, which is spiteful, cruel, but contains unexpected elements and depth. Other readers have disclosed the title's origins, but I wish they hadn't. Learning of Framboise's actions with the orange was one of the most dramatic and horrifying elements of the novel for me, and some reviewers ruined the surprise. This is a wonderfully-structured, imaginitive tale that will leave you longing for French food and to feel the August sun on your back.
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