Title Peaches for Monsieur le Curé
Author Joanne Harris
Date Published 24th May 2012
Number of Pages 458 pages
It isn’t often you receive a letter from the dead.
When Vianne Rocher receives a letter from beyond the grave, she has no choice but to follow the wind that blows her back to Lansquenet, the village in south-west France where, eight years ago, she opened up a chocolate shop.
But Vianne is completely unprepared for what she finds there. Women veiled in black, the scent of spices and peppermint tea, and there, on the bank of the river Tannes, facing the square little tower of the church of Saint-Jerôme like a piece on a chessboard – slender, bone-white and crowned with a silver crescent moon – a minaret.
Nor is it only the incomers from North Africa that have brought big changes to the community. Father Reynaud, Vianne’s erstwhile adversary, is now disgraced and under threat. Could it be that Vianne is the only one who can save him? [DESCRIPTION FROM AMAZON.]
Christmas Day 2007 – A few months earlier I discovered Joanne Harris’s Runemarks at my local WHSmith and asked for it. On Christmas Day, after finding I had been given this book, I also found another book The Lollipop Shoes, and as with all fifteen year old boys proceeded to tell my mother how I would not like this book as it was meant for adult women.
Either way, I proceeded to read Runemarks – I only ever read fantasy novels – and forgot about the second book. Until I’d finished my GCSE exams. I remember being sat in my room, wondering what to do. I looked across at my bookcase and the book seemed to call to me. It was at that moment I decided I needed to at least give the book a chance.
I opened The Lollipop Shoes and from the first line, ‘It is a relatively little-known fact that, over the course of a single year, about twenty million letters are delivered to the dead.’ I was hooked. Books for adults weren’t meant to start this way, they were meant to bore you with backstory. For some reason, my years at school reading Classic English Literature had given me this idea that all books were written in the same manner that read as though you were trying to walk through treacle.
This book introduced to me to Vianne Rocher and the Chocolat world. I hadn’t read the first book, I didn’t know it existed until I was some way through the book and realised there were past references I didn’t know about. These didn’t matter though, the book enthralled me – I quickly acquired the majority of Joanne Harris’s books.
When I became a volunteer at Age UK, I found that you will often find Chocolat at charity shops. At the time, I started to ‘save’ her books. Often the copies of Joanne Harris’s books would have badly-creased spines; this meant they were destined for the skip. As soon as I heard this, I asked to have the books.
Chocolat, Five Quarters of the Orange and Blackberry Wine are the three books I have that I purchased from Waterstones. I have found The French Kitchen at Age UK and use it for recipes – I like that there is a story behind the recipes. I don’t have Sleep, Pale Sister, and still have to read a few of the books I’ve found, but The Lollipop Shoes cemented my admiration of Joanne Harris’s writing.
That enamoured that when I went to sixth form and discovered we could write a piece of transformational writing – glorified fan fiction – I immediately chose to write about The Lollipop Shoes. In the book I wondered about the relationship between Vianne and her mother – I even contacted the author through MySpace to tell her about the project. I wrote from the perspective of Vianne’s mother and was told that I write like a twenty-first century woman.
When I discovered that the author would be returning to the world of Chocolat in her latest book, Peaches for Monsieur le Curé I was ecstatic. In Peaches, Harris returns Vianne Rocher to Lansquenet – a world changed from when we met the characters in Chocolat. With the addition of the Muslim faith, the reader is once again presented a world of two worlds supposedly at war with one another.
After a very long introduction, I will review the book.
Peaches for Monsieur le Curé – A Review
Firstly, I want to say that Peaches doesn’t read like your everyday sequel. In fact, it is more of a reunion. The reader is presented with a story that we have seen before – a war between two worlds, that when we get to the core of it, is actually the war between a parent and their child.
In Chocolat, the war we felt was between Vianne and Reynaud. In The Lollipop Shoes, the war mirrored the war in Peaches, in that we felt the war was between two characters Vianne and Zozie, when in fact Vianne was at war with herself. In this ‘sequel’ Harris uses the motif of the peach.
On the cover we are shown a wasp crawling over the stone of a peach, reminiscent of a line within the novel, ‘The Autan wind is merciless; already, the ground at the foot of the tree was covered in windfalls. Leave them more than a minute and the wasps will start to attack them.’ Here, the reader begins to think that the mysterious Inés Bencharki is the wasp on the stone of this peach – yet we’re often told that Inés is a scorpion, her story related to a folktale about a scorpion and a buffalo. This story is used to foreshadow the ending, yet the reader does not realise this until after the climax.
It is this climax that also causes the reader to realise that Harris has presented us with another twist. Now, we question who is the scorpion and who is the buffalo. Who is the wasp on the stone of this peach? These questions are presented in such a subtle manner, that you can’t help but applaud Harris’s mastery of her storyline.
This is a truly multi-layered storyline. Yes, this is a novel about war, but it is also a novel about faith. Reynaud calls his own faith into question when he is practically excommunicated from the community due to his way of preaching. In this novel, he is a viewpoint character, and the reader gets insight into the way he thinks. He is a man of incredible faith – who knows nothing else. His life is built on his faith and without it he is at war with himself – does he continue to go on as he does: a shell of a man held in contempt by those around him, or does he leave and try to build a new life elsewhere?
Vianne’s faith in her ‘magic’ is called into question as well. This book doesn’t feature as much ‘magic’ as the last two books, yet it is still a large part of Vianne’s life. She has built her life around her ability to help those around her – in this book she gains a better awareness of what her departure in Chocolat has caused. Even though she thinks she has helped to change people’s lives for the better, she discovers that things haven’t changed so much as they have been covered up.
We even find a war between two factions of the Muslims who inhabit Les Marauds. An old man Mahjoubi believes that their faith shouldn’t be as stringent as they have been in the past, whilst his son believes that their women should wear niqab or hijab – for they tempt the men; he believes that following the old system will create a better world for them to live in.
Here, we are presented with the three main features of war: war between parent and child, war between faiths, and war between the old and the new.
This is in itself emphasised by the technological aspects of the novel. In Peaches, mobile phones and Facebook are mentioned as the everyday. In the beginning, they are used to highlight the differences from the first book to now – ‘Paris is mostly dead right now, except for tourists and people like us who can’t afford a holiday; and the river stinks, and there is no shade, and you’d do anything to walk barefoot in a field somewhere, or to sit under a tree in a wood.’
An evocative example of showing over telling that makes this writer awe at Harris’s ability to show the stagnant state of affairs. The repetition of the ‘and’ to emphasise how Vianne feels about the world she now inhabits. This is the world we are presented with at the start of the novel, and this is when, as the reader, you pray for change as well. You can’t wait for Vianne to return to Lansquenet.
Harris’s use of punctuation is also something writers should stop and take a look at. Reading Peaches made me appreciate the use of dashes – how they are used to emphasise how rapid our thoughts come, to cut off thoughts and sentences, to move the story along. There’s the semi-colon that is used at one point in such a quick succession, that it becomes almost poetic in its use.
The dashes help to show the reader that we are often being shown the character’s internal monologue. We aren’t seeing the world through anyone else’s eyes but Vianne’s and Reynaud’s – they have their own way of thinking, and as the story progresses, the reader gains an appreciation of this way of thinking.
Yet, when we are presented with the cultural differences it is almost as if Harris is holding a mirror up to our own beliefs. Do we, as readers, believe that there is any difference in the characters? Do we often see the culture over the character? If you met Mahjoubi in the street – would you treat him as you would a person of the same race? Or would you think he would not understand the nuances of your culture as much as he does his own?
As a reader, I didn’t know how to answer these questions. I know that when I’m working the till at the charity shop I find myself enunciating syllables to the Muslim families that come in – I do have a muffled voice – and often chastise myself for my own in-built racism. Yet, I find myself getting annoyed that I am unable to find some middle ground where we can understand one another fully.
Does this in itself not show that I am more like Caro than Vianne? I believe that I have accepted these members of the community, when in fact I treat them as though they are foreigners not friends.
This is something we are taught in Primary School; that although there are different religious cultures we still have to pray to God in every morning assembly, regardless of faith. We tell our children to serve him, and that other cultures are different, that these differences are wrong.
Only as we get older do we realise that there is place for different cultures in society. As a society, can we not accept these other cultures rather than believe we do because we eat cous-cous?
Here we have Harris teaching us about the language of food. All societies are able to communicate through their love of food. Harris’s descriptions often use tastes to describe certain aspects of a person, ‘espresso eyes’, so that any reader can better understand this character. As well as showing characters that talk to one another with food – Vianne’s chocolates, Zahra’s mint tea – through her descriptions of character’s appearance with food, Harris communicates that all her readers, regardless of language, will understand.
After the climax, we begin to see a reintegration of characters travelling between the two worlds – a character goes downstairs and discovers that food has been left for them. When this happens, the reader is able to relax after the tension that has spurred them on throughout the novel. Community spirit begins to return to Lansquenet, and the reader is left wondering whether Vianne will remain in Lansquenet or return to Paris – a question that leaves us on tenterhooks.
I applaud the author for this novel. Joanne Harris is a writer who is often under-rated. If you unpick her novels, and look at the sheer mastery of threads, you can understand why she is one of the authors I admire. I feel like I should end this review on a cooking metaphor, but I can’t think of one that would do any justice.
Here we have a novel and an author who deserve to be read. We have timeless themes and characters – as Harris teaches us, peaches represent eternal life, and this book represents the cyclical idea that sometimes to move forward we must go back.
Until next time, that is all.