Chocolat

Spoilers for the book and movie below.

A couple of weeks ago I read Chocolat to see if it would be appropriate for a book discussion. Most of my reading these days is geared that way – “Help, help! What books can my group discuss?” I picked up Chocolat because I had seen the movie and wondered if the book would make an interesting discussion. I’m not a reviewer by any means, so these are just some thoughts.

I only saw the movie once, and what I remember is that it was beautifully done, the chocolate looked amazing (as did Johnny Depp), and that overall it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I had heard that it was a movie that brought up good issues for Christians to discuss, but it seemed to me that it was focused on bashing authority and encouraging excess.

When I started the book, one of my coworkers said, “Oh, I read that!” I asked her what she thought, and she hemmed and hawed a bit before I said, “I saw the movie and didn’t really care for it.” She then said that she hadn’t loved the book – that Vianne’s free spirit was a little too flakey for her. I thought, though, that a book that inspires passionate dislike can make for a good discussion, so I was excited to see what I thought about it.

Overall, I agreed with my coworker’s take on Vianne. I enjoyed the revelations we had about her life and her mother, but the way she kept packing up and moving places and changing her name made her someone I couldn’t really relate to. I felt as if we were supposed to romanticize her character (at least in those aspects), but I couldn’t quite do that because I felt sorry for her daughter (and the new little one on the way), having to move around so much and never getting to stay in one place.

The priest (I think it was a mayor in the movie) was more sympathetic in the book than I remembered in the movie. More sympathetic in some ways and more vicious in others. Part of the book (maybe about 1/3) was from his point of view, which I really enjoyed. The scene at the end, where he’s broken into her shop and starts stuffing his face with chocolate was, I think, a bit harsher in the book. Despite his narrow-mindedness, I hate to see someone shamed like that.

The Judi Dench character was just as great in the book as I remembered from the movie, and I enjoyed picturing her sitting at the counter drinking hot chocolate with her grandson.

But, of course, the best part of the book was the magnificent descriptions of the chocolate – the way it smelled, how she was making it, the displays in her window, the purchases people made. It made me want to eat and eat and eat.

In the end, the book left me with the same feeling that the movie did – slightly uncomfortable with the main character’s excesses. I haven’t decided if I’m going to use it as a discussion book yet. I couldn’t find any discussion questions anywhere, and while I could write my own, it’s nice to have a starting point. As it’s set during Lent, it might be a fun book to discuss just after Easter, with lots of chocolate and candy to snack on while we talk. It’s definitely challenging, though, to think about ways that I hold people to certain man-made standards like the priest did, and ways that I overindulge like Vianne. And where the healthy balance is in between.

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