The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris Orion April 4th 2019
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.
There is always something comforting about returning to somewhere you know so well, to characters, that over the years you have grown to love and cherish. When the author also happens to be Joanne Harris you knew you were in for a real treat and The Strawberry Thief did not disappoint.
So, off I went to the sleepy French village of Lansquenet-Sous-Tannes and back into the lives of Vianne, Rossette, Roux and Reynaud. I could almost smell the luxurious aroma wafting from Vianne’s chocolatiere shop, my tastebuds salivating at the thought of the taste of her wonderful chocolate creations. Yet you sensed there was something not quite right, a gentle undertone of disquiet, the possibility of change lingering in the air.
Told in the alternating voices of Vianne, Rossette and Reynaud, Harris’s beautiful narrative captured the very heart of their emotions, their thoughts and their inner turmoil.
For Vianne, it was what every mother dreads, as her children grow up and want to spread their wings, it was the realisation that we cannot hold them close, cannot clip their wings but must give them flight and send them on their way.. You knew from the beginning Vianne’s need to prevent Rossette from finding her own voice was wrong, but that Harris would take you on a journey, that you would witness Vianne’s struggles, even if that meant hurting those around her.
Rossette, Vianne’s youngest daughter, was just the most wonderful character, unlike other children, her strange quips, her silence wonderfully endearing yet loaded with meaning. Harris brilliantly conveyed her feelings, her insights into the minds of those around her, that made your heart melt and want to reach out to her. She gave the feeling that she was special, unique, that bigger things were waiting for her yet you didn’t know what they would be and more than anything you wanted to discover what they were and where the story would take her.
Reynaud, the Priest, hid a secret that tore him apart that weighed him down, that burden getting heavier as he carried around the deceased Narcisse’s final confession, and you sensed his trepidation as he slowly read his story, his fear as he prepared to turn the next page.
Harris’s skilfully wove a mystery, a murder through the voices of her characters and what I liked was that although it was a big part of the novel it didn’t drown out the individual characters, but sat at their side, used as a tool for them to discover what they wanted, how they would resolve their own issues.
One character I did love was Montane, the newcomer. I loved her colour, her insight and Harris’s ability to use her to spark rumour, unrest, and division amongst the the villages.
The Strawberry Thief wasn’t about high drama and confrontations instead Harris used her narrative and characters to create gentle ripples that undulated throughout, that took the characters through the process and acceptance of change.
It was beautifully written, almost ethereal with a little sprinkling of magic dust that carried you along and I absolutely loved it.
I would like to thank Orion for a copy of The Strawberry Thief to read and review and to Tracy Fenton of Compulsive Readers for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Joanne Harris (MBE) was born in Barnsley in 1964, of a French mother and an English father. She studied Modern and Mediaeval Languages at Cambridge and was a teacher for fifteen years, during which time she published three novels, including Chocolat (1999), which was made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Juliette Binoche .
Since then, she has written 15 more novels, two novellas, two collections of short stories, a Dr Who novella, guest episodes for the game Zombies, Run, the libretti for two short operas, several screenplays, a musical and three cookbooks. Her books are now published in over 50 countries and have won a number of British and international awards. She is an honorary Fellow of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, has honorary doctorates in literature from the universities of Sheffield and Huddersfield, and has been a judge for the Whitbread Prize, the Orange Prize, the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science, as well as for the Fragrance Foundation awards for perfume and perfume journalism (for which she also received an award in 2017) .
Her hobbies are listed in Who’s Who as: “mooching, lounging, strutting, strumming, priest-baiting and quiet subversion of the system”, although she also enjoys obfuscation, sleaze, rebellion, witchcraft, armed robbery, tea and biscuits. She is not above bribery and would not necessarily refuse an offer involving perfume, diamonds, exotic travel or pink champagne. She works from a shed in her garden, plays bass in the band she first joined when she was 16, is currently co-writing a stage musical and lives with her husband in a little wood in Yorkshire.