Peaches for Monsieur le Cure

Peaches for Monsieur Curé

Joanne Harris

Publisher: Doubleday

RRP $ 32.95

458pp

Category: FictionCopy courtesy of the Publisher

Peaches for Monsieur Curé is the third book in the Chocolat series. Eight years on from Chocolat, Vianne Rocher is living on a houseboat-chocolaterie in Paris with Roux and her daughters, Anouk and Rosette. One day she receives a letter from her old friend Armande. Armande has been dead for eight years, but the letter had been sealed inside another letter given to Armande’s grandson for his twenty-first birthday.

“Someone once told me that, in France alone, a quarter of a million letters are delivered every year to the dead.

What she didn’t tell me is that sometimes the dead write back.”

This is the premise for Vianne returning to the village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes where, eight years earlier, she had set up her chocolaterie. But Lansquenet has changed. There has been an influx of migrants from Morocco – the Maghrébins – who have moved into the river community of Les Marauds. They are mysterious and hidden under their hijabs. They have built a mosque with a minaret on the river, and seem to be governed by very different rules to the villagers of Lansquenet. Vianne finds Francis Reynaud, the priest of Lansquenet, struggling to accept these new people. Although he has mellowed somewhat in the last eight years, he still has little tolerance, regards the newcomers with suspicion, and struggles to accept change. Even his local parishioners have turned on him in favour of the younger Peré Henri Lemaître “with his blue jeans and his bleached smile and his new ideas.”

Things take a sinister turn when the mysterious Inés Bencharki arrives. She doesn’t speak to anyone, wears her hijab all the time, and somehow seems to anger both the people living in Lansquenet and those in Les Marauds. She sets up a girls’ school in the old chocolaterie in the town square. When the school is burnt down, the people of both Lansquenet and Les Marauds blame Francis Reynaud.

Joanne Harris has said that her “initial point of entry is through food”, and I love the way she uses food to bring her characters together. Whether it is making peach jam, or pancakes, or a comforting mug of hot chocolate, people are united over food throughout the book. While Chocolate was set during lent, Peaches for Monsieur le Curé is set during Ramadan. Setting the novels during a time of fasting provides an interesting contrast with the idea of food bringing people together.

Peaches for Monsieur le Curé is a luscious novel – as comforting as a mug of hot chocolate.  It has all the elements I loved in Chocolat, but seemed to be missing in The Lollipop Shoes – the charming French village of Lansquenet and its quirky characters, the food, and the magic. Reading Vianne’s story in Peaches is like catching up with an old friend.

Joanne Harris is currently appearing as a guest of the Brisbane Writers’ Festival.

8/10

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