Have you ever come across a book that you really liked, and you kept reading it over and over till it resonated with every cell in your body and became a part of your very existence; an extension of your self?
If yes, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. If no, you should be reading more!
For me, Chocolat is that book. It is not just a story that I read. I see, smell, taste and experience it. If books could be our soulmates, Chocolat would be mine. If I thought calling something my ‘bae’ was cool, Chocolat would very much be my bae. If I was an evil wizard (a female Voldemort, maybe… Voldemorte?), my copy of Chocolat would be a horcrux, because it does essentially carry my soul. But I’m digressing.
As I’m sure I have established by now, Chocolat is one of my favourite books. Why? Because it’s a book about chocolate. It is literally called chocolate!
Now I know what you’re thinking. I have just taken you from soulmate to chocolate; not quite the climax you were expecting. But it gets better, I promise.
Chocolat does not just have a flirtatious encounter with chocolate. It has a committed relationship with it. The entire book describes different kinds of chocolate, how chocolate is made, and how our preferences in chocolate depend upon the kind of people we are. As a reader, you don’t just read about chocolate, you see it looming in front of your eyes, ready to be devoured and you smell its strong scent emanating from the book.
But the chocolate doesn’t just stand for chocolate. It stands for indulgence and individuality, for passion and proclivity. It stands for happiness. It stands for Vianne Rocher. Nothing describes this better than a quote from the book, a slogan that is used in an attempt to drive chocolate, and Vianne, out of the little French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes: Church, not Chocolate.
This brings us to Francis Reynaud, the priest of the above mentioned Church, who has a vendetta against chocolate. Here Church doesn’t stand for religion as much as it stands for impositions of morality and socially appropriate behavior. Vianne is an abomination because she does not go to Church on Sunday morning, because is an unmarried mother, and because she just arrives in the village one day and opens a chocolaterie.
Through the story we slowly begin to see the unhappiness that lurks beneath the perfection devotion of the people of Lansquenet. Sorrow at losing a beloved pet, fear of being beaten up by a husband and regret at being estranged from a grandson. Slowly, the chocolaterie becomes a space whether these feelings can be expressed; a substitute for the Church confessional. Here, the unacceptable is accepted, the unmentionable is mentioned, and deepest desires as shared over a cup of chocolate.
Meanwhile, the fight between church and chocolate, which is essentially the fight between Vianne and Reynaud becomes more and more personal. They both battle their own demons, their own fears and desires. Reynaud does this through God. Vianne has her own magic, a remnant of her mother’s legacy. This magic is never truly explained, but is felt throughout the book, a mixture of hope, intuition and fate.
So Chocolat isn’t really about chocolate. It is about love, and fear of loss, desire and self-restraint. It is about the magic of happiness.
And that’s what makes the story so beautiful. The complex themes that it covers, but the simplicity of the message it gives. ‘Be happy’, Vianne Rocher tells me. ‘Be happy no matter the cost.’