Peaches for Monsieur le Curé
Joanne Harris (Doubleday 2012, Trade Paperback) 459 pages, $24.95
The reader may well have the advantage on me here. I have not read Chocolat, nor have I read The Lollipop Shoes, the second of what are now three novels about Vianne Rocher. Incidentally, I just now noticed that in the U.S. the title for this novel is changed to Peaches for Father Francis – oh America, please grow up! Pronouncing a word or two of french won't make your penises fall off.
Now that we've got that out of the way, I haven't seen the film version of Chocolat either. Not that I avoided it or anything like that. I just don't enjoy movies. Oh I know, no one says they don't like movies. Well, I don't. They are neither long enough for me to complete engage my consciousness in their stories, not short enough so that if the experience is unsatisfactory it doesn't blow and entire evening. Besides, I've seen The Third Man and anything else is poor competition.
Regardless, I wasn't too many pages in to Peaches for Monsieur le Curé before I realized it must be a follow-up. If there are any nuances of meaning I would have gleaned and appreciated by reading the earlier books, I wouldn't know. That said, I generally quite enjoyed the novel on its own.
It is very much a product of our sadly divided times. Vianne returns to the village of Lansquenet, in south-western France. I give Joanne Harris very high marks for the deviuce used to get her heroine back to the scene of the original novel. An old friend, Armande, dies and leaves a letter to be delivered to Vianne upon the 25th birthday of the former’s grandson. He does, Vianne reads the message to come back for a visit and away we go.
The little village is now very much divided between immigrant Muslims and the indigenous community of laissez-faire Catholics. Vianne's former chocolate shop has been turned into a school for the strict instruction of Muslim girls and has been fire-bombed with the accused – Zut alors! - being the parish priest, Father Francis Reynaud. Complications arise.
I'll admit to being more than a little touchy about the book's theme of division and misunderstanding between faiths and cultures, particularly the faith bit. More and more one realizes that these things that supposedly lend comfort and build communities instead are stealth weapons and smart bombs that are causes of violence, not peace.
What one most enjoys is that Vianne moves comfortably between the Muslim neighbourhood and the traditional French area without any rancour towards either. With her witch's insight into a person's colours (and by the way, there are people who can read auras, so this is no fantasy of author Harris) she brings a non-judgmental spirituality to her solving of the village's many mysteries and so is very much an example to us all.
I liked the book. Oh I don't think I'll be turning back to it again and again over the decades to come; yet on the other hand it passes the Gift Test. As I think of the many and varied friends I have in my life, I would recommend Peaches for Monsieur le Curé to at least 70% od them. That's pretty good, you know. Think of your own friends and how few opinions 70% of them share, outside of how great you are.
Be seeing you.