The Rendezvous Book Choice:
Generally, you either like an author or you don’t. You might prefer certain books to others but a favourite author is a favourite author. Joanne Harris, therefore, is a bit of an anomaly. I loved Chocolat and Five Quarters of the Orange but couldn’t get past the first few pages of Blackberry Wine and gave up Coastliners when I realised I couldn’t care less what happened to any of the characters. Others report a similar ambivalence to Harris’ books.
Her latest book, however, is a triumph. Rattling through some 460 pages, The Lollipop Shoes takes up the story begun in Chocolat and follows Vianne Rocher and daughter Anouk to the streets of Paris’ Montmartre where they open another chocolaterie and the mysterious Zozie breezes into their lives.
Weaving questions about the compromises of motherhood, teenage uncertainties, the nature of identity, learning to be different and the desire to conform into a story which races towards a satisfying conclusion, the Lollipop Shoes shows Harris maturing into a really fine writer.
Particularly poignant is her honest but unlaboured treatment of the relationship between a mother and growing child as well as the frightening glimpse into Anouk’s schooldays - Anouk, of course, has grown up beside Harris’ own daughter, Anouchka.
The story is both firmly rooted in the modern world - teenagers have iPods and digital cameras - but rendered timeless by that same whiff of magic, which is really only feminine intuition, we first saw in Chocolat.
The evocation of a wintry Paris and, of course, the hubble-bubble of the chocolaterie are delightful as are the vignettes of the regular customers.
A thoroughly enjoyable book, The Lollipop Shoes is both comforting and yet you might find it mightily unsettling. How much do we suppress the spirit - both our own and those of our loved ones - in order to cope with life?