It isn’t often you receive a letter from the dead. When Vianne Rocher receives a letter from beyond the grave, she has no choice but to follow the wind that blows her back to Lansquenet, the village in south-west France where, eight years ago, she opened up a chocolate shop. But Vianne is completely unprepared for what she finds there. Women veiled in black, the scent of spices and peppermint tea, and there, on the bank of the river Tannes, facing the square little tower of the church of Saint-Jerome like a piece on a chessboard – slender, bone-white and crowned with a silver crescent moon – a minaret. Nor is it only the incomers from North Africa that have brought big changes to the community. Father Reynaud, Vianne’s erstwhile adversary, is now disgraced and under threat. Could it be that Vianne is the only one who can save him? (Goodreads)
Peaches for Monsieur le Curé outlived all my expectations. Chocolat is one of my all-time favourite books, and even though I really enjoyed The Lollipop Shoes, I am still not sure if I find it a worthy follow-up of the first book or not. Peaches, however, is more than worthy of following in the footsteps of the magic that is Chocolat.
The first of many improvements is, of course, the return to Lansquenet-Sous-Tannes. This, I think, is where the previous book went wrong, because the Paris setting took a lot away of that what made the storyline of Chocolat so special. Vianne and her daughters return to Lansquenet, and even though many things never change in the picturesque village, some aspects have changed village life beyond recognition.
I hadn’t read any summaries of the book before I started reading it, so other than the fact that Vianne was going back, I had no idea of what kind of storyline the book would pursue, and what kind of themes the story would hold.
I am a big fan of books with a Middle Eastern theme, so I was pleasantly surprised that the story was heavily influenced by this. Joanne Harris tackles a lot of sensitive issues such as multiculturalism, Islam, the wearing of the veil and niqab etcetera, and she does so in the most gentle of ways, and with the utmost respect for all parties involved.
Vianne is unchanged in the way that she is still an outsider, and still doesn’t adhere to any of the social codes. Whereas other villagers stay away, she goes out of her way to make contact with the people in Les Marauds, and tries to unravel the mystery of the conflict between the French and les Maghrébins. Yet she isn’t the same woman who left Lansquenet eight years ago. She is now a mother of a young girl and a teenager, and she’s no longer unattached like she used to be. She worries about Roux, who stayed behind in Paris, and how her returning to Lansquenet might change their relationship.
As always, food plays an important role in the storyline. This time the focus isn’t so much on the chocolate making, but more on food in general. The story shows that a love for food is universal, and transcends all boundaries, be it ethnic, cultural, or religious. Food is an important factor that binds all the villagers together in the end, and as always Vianne’s chocolates and their seemingly magical properties have something to do with it.
Peaches for Monsieur le Curé is an absolute gem of a book, and I would recommend it to anyone.