This is a truly excellent book, one of the best it has been my pleasure to read in the line of duty for years. Joanne Harris achieves everything a novelist should aim for, with no sense of effort or striving.
Vianne Rocher arrives in Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, a small town between Toulouse and Bordeaux, on Ash Wednesday. She brings with her an illegitimate daughter (father unknown), Anouk, and her skills – chocolate-making and divining. Vianne has led a gypsy's existence, travelling across Europe and America, moving every time the wind changed. For the first time she begins to feel that perhaps she would like to settle down, and so, on a whim, she moves into the empty bakery and opens up a chocolate shop.
Vianne is an outsider: she comes from nowhere, she does not even pretend to have a husband, she does not go to Mass, her clothes are bright and flowing, her hair long and wild. Worse still, she laughs. She encourages other people to take control of their own lives: Armande,