Vianne Rocher and her daughter, Anouk, arrive in Lansquenet-sous-Tannes on the day of a merry carnival, just before the Lenten period begins. Vianne and Anouk travel where the wind takes them, and may have even passed through Lansquenet in favour of another location had the carnival not enabled them to take notice. Anouk is begging to stay and Vianne agrees. They rent a property and work on opening a Chocolaterie, much to the dismay of the local priest, Reynaud. On the surface, the ensuing battle seems to be between tradition versus change, but as the story progresses it becomes much deeper - as Reynaud sees it, the might of the Church being challenged by pagan beliefs that he believes will tear his flock away. Vianne hopes that the two could live side-by-side but she is not naive. She knows what her choices can cost in such a tight-knit, devout (on the surface) community. Nevertheless, she sticks to her choices and makes great friends. She becomes instrumental in the transformation of people and relationships - Josephine Muscat, Armande and her grandson, and much-needed welcome to the travelling community who stop briefly in Lansquenet, much to the dismay of Reynaud and his cronies. She quietly shakes things up and encourages people to think differently - not necessarily swaying them from their beliefs but merely to look at things for themselves rather than through Reynaud's lenses. It's a good lesson to anyone with faith or no faith, and certainly was to me.
From the very first page, this book is a feast for the senses. Everything that Harris describes, you wish it were in front of you at that moment to devour. She blends in magical, ancient twists to the very process of Vianne's chocolate-making - Vianne relates how her mother would have decried this as a waste of talent, but Vianne is content. She knows it makes people happy, and, moreover, it makes her happy. This time around reading the book made me wish even more that I could find Vianne, drink some of her hot chocolate, have her guess my favourites and show me something that I'm missing. There are so many ways to read this book, so many messages you can take from it. It's one of those stories where you can find something different with each read. Most certainly a keeper for the bookshelves, and the soul.