64 pages 2 hours read

Joanne Harris


Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1999

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Summary and Study Guide


Chocolat by Joanne Harris was first published in 1991. It is in the magical realism genre, presenting a realistic, recognizable world but with magical or fantastical elements, blurring the lines between realism and fantasy. Chocolat follows Vianne, a single mother who arrives in a small French village and opens a chocolate shop despite opposition from the local priest. Many of the villagers find new experiences and connections in her indulgent, magical chocolaterie.

Chocolat won multiple awards. The film adaptation, released in 2000, varies significantly from the book. Harris has published three sequels: The Girl With No Shadow (2007), Peaches for Father Francis (2012), and The Strawberry Thief (2019).

This guide refers to the 2019 Black Swan edition.

Content Warning: Some characters in the novel display harmful prejudices toward itinerant communities, including language that is offensive to Romani people. This guide reproduces offensive terms only in quotation. This novel also includes fatphobia and domestic violence.

Plot Summary

Vianne Rocher and her six-year-old daughter, Anouk, arrive in a small French village on carnival day (the day before Lent begins). The local priest, Francis Reynaud, greets her with suspicion. She opens a chocolate shop and gifts people their favorite chocolates, even an ostracized woman, Josephine Muscat, who shoplifts from her. Reynaud vents to an unresponsive, hospitalized man he calls his père (father) about his parishioners’ flaws, including the inappropriateness of Vianne opening a chocolate shop during Lent. He fasts obsessively.

Vianne meets an old lady, Armande Voizin, in Les Marauds, an area filled with informal housing. Armande thinks that Vianne is a witch like her and suggests that the chocolaterie is magic. She reminds Vianne of her mother, who also called herself a witch and read tarot cards as they traveled constantly without settling. Vianne realizes that Reynaud has discouraged people from visiting her shop and identifies him as the “Black Man” (someone in priests’ black clothes), a figure from whom her mother fled. Despite this, more customers come. Guillaume becomes a regular. His beloved dog, Charly, is dying from a tumor, but Reynaud frowns on his attachment, saying that dogs don’t have souls. Meanwhile, Anouk is upset that local children have been forbidden to play with her due to Vianne’s non-Catholicism.

Vianne prepares chocolate, which she sees as a magical process with roots in ancient South American culture. Reynaud tells his père that Vianne’s shop disturbs him because it’s like a boudoir. He remembers how they drove out an itinerant houseboat community in the past by turning the villagers against them.

Josephine comes back to the shop and pays for the packet that she took. Later, her husband, Paul Muscat, leers at Vianne and asks what his wife was doing there. Armande visits, mourning her relationship with her grandson, Luc, whom her daughter, Caroline (or Caro), won’t let her see. She warns Vianne about Reynaud. Vianne reads her mother’s tarot cards but is determined not to let them dictate that she must flee, like her mother always did.

Reynaud is horrified that some houseboats have arrived in the village, but their inhabitants ignore his attempts to oust them verbally, and Armande stands up for them. He vows to fast more fervently, feeling that he must counter Vianne’s influence and find a way to expel the houseboat community. Vianne refuses to participate in a campaign against the traveling community led by Caro and Muscat. Vianne also tells Josephine that she can come to her for help. At the children’s urging, she decides to hold an enormous chocolate festival for Easter.

Luc secretly meets Armande in the shop; they bond over poetry and chocolate. Michel Roux visits on Vianne’s invitation, and she agrees that he can purchase supplies through her to circumnavigate the villagers’ prejudices.

Reynaud tries to confront Vianne but flees the shop, overwhelmed by the sights and smells of the chocolate and of her. He feels that her festival must be stopped because everyone is invited, including the houseboat residents. He remembers the fire that ultimately drove them out last time. Vianne and Anouk have a wonderful evening with Roux and his friends; he cooks delicious food. Afterward, she feels that they were watched. Josephine warns her to flee.

Armande wants to enjoy her life and indulge rather than follow the advice of doctors or priests. She reveals that Reynaud also grew up in Les Marauds, though he pretends to be a stranger to her. Guillaume has Charly put down, prompting Anouk to question Vianne about death and whether they will be parted one day.

Reynaud sees a fire start on Roux’s boat; Roux narrowly avoids being seriously hurt and camps out in a derelict house. Reynaud angrily tells Muscat, whom he saw at the scene, that he should not attack Vianne, Josephine, or the shop, feeling that he must himself find a way to stop the chocolate festival.

Josephine leaves Muscat, moving in with Vianne. Some villagers are supportive, and Josephine’s confidence blooms. Roux wants to find out more about the fire, but he is defensively hostile when Vianne tries to reach out, disturbing Josephine.

Later, a funeral reminds Vianne of scattering her mother’s ashes in celebration of her life. Roux runs in—he’s found Armande collapsed. Despite his fear of being blamed, he and Vianne go to her aid. When Caro and the doctor arrive, Armande refuses their suggestions of a sedentary life and a nursing home. Caro and her clique launch a campaign against the chocolate festival for which Reynaud gives his blessing, but he says that he must not seem associated with it. He dreams about chocolate and vows to fast more. He argues with Vianne about Armande, revealing that she is going blind. Armande later confirms this. She plans to stop taking her medication and have a huge birthday, after which she wants to die on her own terms before she loses her independence. Vianne emotionally remembers her own mother’s fear of death. Roux moves in with Armande and works on Vianne’s house to create a room for Anouk, implying that Vianne and Anouk might stay in the village. Josephine finds the courage to tell Roux that she knows that Muscat is behind the fire, and they connect.

Reynaud finds a crowd gathered outside Muscat’s residence, where he is attacking Josephine, who returned to get her things. Reynaud has a vivid flashback to finding his beloved père and his mother having sex, just weeks after he had he committed arson against the houseboat community he was trying to drive out, inadvertently killing two people. He follows Armande and Guillaume in, and they take Josephine away. Reynaud rejects Muscat’s pleas for his support, and Muscat flees. Josephine takes over the café.

Vianne recalls her mother’s implications, on morphine in her final weeks, that she kidnapped Vianne as a baby, explaining why they were always on the run. She reads her tarot cards and feels that Roux and Josephine are destined to be together but that she and Roux are also connected somehow. She burns the Hermit card, representing Reynaud. After a joyful feast with her whole community, Vianne helps Armande prepare to sleep. She and Roux seek connection in the face of mortality, and they have sex.

Reynaud is convinced that if he performs adequate penance and defeats Vianne, his père will revive from his coma, which came as a result of his health declining after Reynaud discovered him with his mother. He plans to break into the chocolate shop before dawn on Easter Monday and destroy the chocolate. However, he is tempted by the window display. He ends up gorging on chocolate until the morning bells when Vianne finds him. He flees. The chocolate festival is a huge success. Vianne sings to Anouk and senses a new life in her womb. She wonders if, this time, they will resist the call of the wind and remain in the village.

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By Joanne Harris

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Joanne Harris
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Joanne Harris
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