Source: Review copy
Publication: 4th April 2019 from Orion
Vianne Rocher has settled down. Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, the place that once rejected her, has finally become her home. With Rosette, her ‘special’ child, she runs her chocolate shop in the square, talks to her friends on the river, is part of the community. Even Reynaud, the priest, has become a friend.
But when old Narcisse, the florist, dies, leaving a parcel of land to Rosette and a written confession to Reynaud, the life of the sleepy village is once more thrown into disarray.
The arrival of Narcisse’s relatives, the departure of an old friend and the opening of a mysterious new shop in the place of the florist’s across the square – one that mirrors the chocolaterie, and has a strange appeal of its own – all seem to herald some kind of change: a confrontation, a turbulence – even, perhaps, a murder…
I read The Strawberry Thief as the wind danced away the last of March and the stirrings of April were warming my blood, speaking of endings and new beginnings. Magic was in the air and I swear it was coming from straight from the pages of my book. So suffused was I in Joanne Harris’s masterful piece of storytelling that I couldn’t bear to be parted from it for more than a minute or two.
We have returned to Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, where Vianne Rocher is continuing to practice her own brand of chocolatier magic. Over the last 20 years, things have settled and there is a degree of contentment in Vianne’s life. She has made her peace with the priest, Francis Reynaud with whom she was once at fierce odds. And although Anouk has fallen in love and now lives in Paris with her lover, she stays in touch. And Vianne knows that she has Rosette her special child, who will never leave her.
For Rosette is a child with special gifts; a child who loves nothing more than to draw unless it is to play with Bam, her (almost) invisible friend.
But outside, there is a stirring. A few snowflakes drift to the ground. They are the susurrus of the breeze before the storm, and Vianne awaits what is to follow with a palpitating heart. She can feel change coming and it fills her heart with dread. Consulting the Tarot offers no comfort; she must await what is coming with trepidation.
Overnight the old florist, Narcisse dies, and with his death comes the first of many changes. For Narcisse, never one to be sociable, has left his wood to Rosette. He and Rosette had found a companionship after he found her stealing strawberries from there. His farmhouse and other goods he has left to his daughter and her husband, but of course they are furious that the wood is not to be included.
Not only that, but he has named Fr. Reynaud as his executor and has left a hand written document which he has stipulated is for the priest’s eyes only.
All of this on its own is sufficient to bring a note of disharmony into the village, but where the dischord really comes in is with the arrival of Morgane. Overnight she has appeared, painted over the old florist’s door and set up shop in the square.
Despite Vianne’s best endeavours, Morgane soon wields her own brand of magic over Lansquenet-sous-Tannes and Vianne is left feeling once more like the outsider.
Joanne Harris is has written an immersive, absorbing tale that pulls in the reader to a world of natural magic and warm, spicy chocolate that lingers on the tongue and sweetens everyone’s hearts just enough. Her characters are like pen drawings come to life, full of character and humorous insights yet people with whom you can identify for they hold their fears tight to their chests and their frailties are our frailties, waiting to be exposed.
Verdict: The Strawberry Thief is the coming of age novel for Lansquenet-sous-Tannes. It is beguiling, bewitching and utterly beautiful. Reader, I cried.
Joanne Harris is an Anglo-French author, whose books include fourteen novels, two cookbooks and many short stories. Her work is extremely diverse, covering aspects of magic realism, suspense, historical fiction, mythology and fantasy. She has also written a DR WHO novella for the BBC, has scripted guest episodes for the game ZOMBIES, RUN!, and is currently engaged in a number of musical theatre projects as well as developing an original drama for television.
In 2000, her 1999 novel CHOCOLAT was adapted to the screen, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. She is an honorary Fellow of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, and in 2013 was awarded an MBE by the Queen.
Her hobbies are listed in Who’s Who as ‘mooching, lounging, strutting, strumming, priest-baiting and quiet subversion’. She also spends too much time on Twitter; plays flute and bass guitar in a band first formed when she was 16; and works from a shed in her garden at her home in Yorkshire.