is a 1999 novel by the British writer Joanne Harris. It tells the story of the mysterious Vianne Rocher, who arrives in the traditional and strait-laced French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, where she opens a chocolate shop that quickly becomes a focal point for resistance to the village priest, Francis Reynaud. The novel was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize and adapted into a film of the same name, starring Juliette Binoche, in 2000.
The novel opens on Mardi Gras. On the single quiet street of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, a parade is progressing past the small shops and the white-painted church. At the rear of the procession is a solemn figure in black: the curé, Père Reynaud. In the midst of the crowd are two recent arrivals: the beautiful Vianne Rocher and her daughter, Anouk. Vianne and Anouk enjoy the festival so much that they decide to stay in Lansquenet.
Vianne rents an apartment and turns an abandoned bakery into a “chocolaterie artisanale,” which she calls La Céleste Praline. Father Reynaud is outraged. It is Lent, a time of austerity and solemnity, not appropriate for opening a shop that encourages indulgence and sensuality.
One-by-one, the villagers enter the shop. Each protests that they have given up chocolate for Lent, but Vianne displays an uncanny ability to identify exactly the chocolate that will tempt them: “It’s your favorite kind.” Several of the villagers become regular customers.
Père Reynaud pays Vianne a visit: it is Sunday, and he didn’t see Vianne or her daughter at church. Vianne explains, “We don’t attend, you know.” When the priest learns that Vianne is unmarried, his outrage turns to horror.
Vianne befriends the village’s loners and outsiders, beginning with Guillaume, and old man whose only friend is his dog, Charly. When Vianne learns that Charly is dying, she gives the dog a chocolate that seems to alleviate his symptoms. A village woman, Joséphine Muscat, steals a box of chocolate almonds. Sensing that the old woman is troubled, Vianne pretends not to notice the theft and befriends Joséphine. She soon learns that Joséphine has been beaten and abused by her husband Paul-Marie and is planning to run away. Vianne persuades her to take a job in the chocolate shop instead, and to move in with her. Paul-Marie is furious and so is Père Reynaud, who despite knowing about Joséphine’s suffering insists on the sanctity of marriage vows. Joséphine blossoms under Vianne’s care, becoming newly youthful and confident.
Another of Vianne’s strays is the eccentric old woman Armande Voizin. Armande is feuding with her daughter Caroline, who won’t allow her son Luc to visit his grandmother. Armande becomes a regular visitor to the shop, drinking Vianne’s rich hot chocolate despite her diabetes. Vianne arranges for Armande and Luc to see each other while Luc’s mother is busy. A self-proclaimed “sorceress” herself, Armande identifies Vianne as a “witch,” and although Vianne doesn’t approve of the word, she accepts that Armande understands her. We learn that Vianne inherited her powerful intuition from her mother and that she has wandered from village to village her whole life, blown by the wind and fleeing the “Black Man.”
A group of river gypsies makes their annual mooring near the town. The townsfolk, lead by the priest, try to chase them away, but Vianne and her friends give them a warm welcome. One of the gypsies, Roux, becomes a regular visitor to the shop and Vianne intuits that he and Joséphine have taken a shine to one another.
The gypsies invite Vianne and her friends to a party on their boats. During the party, one of the boats—Roux’s—begins to burn. The gypsies suspect arson, and they decide to leave. Roux stays behind, determined to find the culprit.
Armande’s daughter Caroline comes to the shop and confronts Vianne, accusing her of encouraging her mother to ignore the dietary restrictions imposed by her diabetes. Vianne talks to Armande, who insists that she will eat whatever she wants.
Armande throws a birthday party. Due to Vianne’s influence, the priest’s disapproval of the openly atheist Armande has less sway with the villagers than it once did. Almost everyone attends Armande’s party, and Armande has an even better time than she had hoped. Afterward, Roux and Joséphine stay behind to clear up, and they spend the night together. The next day, Armande dies.
When Joséphine returns to Paul-Marie’s bar to collect her clothes, he attacks her. The villagers rally behind Joséphine and run Paul-Marie out of town. Joséphine takes over the bar, which she begins to run with Roux’s help.
Père Reynaud, feeling utterly defeated by Vianne, plots to break into her shop and destroy her stock. However, once inside, he is overcome by temptation and starts eating uncontrollably, breaking his Lenten vows. Vianne finds him in the morning, asleep in a pile of half-eaten chocolate. Vianne feels that her work is done, and she and her daughter move on once more.
Exploring themes of religious repression, gender, and sensuality, Chocolat
was a bestseller, becoming one of only four female-authored books to sell more than a million copies in the U.K. Reviews were more mixed, with some finding the novel “excruciatingly precious” (Kirkus Reviews
), while others deemed it “irresistible” (Publishers’ Weekly