The Strawberry Thief
By Joanne Harris
Rating – 5 Stars
About the Author
Joanne Harris is an Anglo-French author, whose books include fourteen novels, two cookbooks and many short stories. Her work is extremely diverse, covering aspects of magic realism, suspense, historical fiction, mythology and fantasy.
In 2000, her 1999 novel Chocolat was adapted to the screen, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. She is an honorary Fellow at St Catherine’s College, Cambridge, and in 2013 was awarded and MBE by the Queen.
Everyone is different. Some of us are just more different than others…
Vianne Rocher has settled down. Lansquenet-Sous-Tannes, the place that once rejected her, has finally become her home. With Rosette, her ‘special’ child, she runs her chocolate shop in the square, talks to her friends on the river, is part of the community. Even Reynaud, the priest, has become a friend.
But when old Narcisse, the florest, dies, leaving a parcel of land to Rosette and a written confession to Reynaud, the life of the sleepy village is once more thrown into disarray. The arrival of Narcisse’s relatives, the departure of an old friend and the opening of a mysterious new shop in the place of the florist’s across the square – one that mirrors the chocolaterie, and has a strange appeal of its own – all seem to herald some kind of change: a confrontation, a turbulence – even perhaps a murder…
The Strawberry Thief is the latest part of the Chocolat series, written by Joanne Harris (who also writes many other genres of books, which are also excellent). This book, even though, now as far as fourth in this series has been absolutely worth the wait. It’s atmospheric, emotional and exquistely written. It grabbed my attention from the very beginning and that never dissipated.
This book sees Vianne Rocher back in Lansquenette-Sous Tannes. Like in the first book – Chocolat, it is Lent and there’s now, what has become the comfortable familiar of Vianne making Easter treats. She seems a bit more accepted and settled in Lansquenet. There are familiar characters as well as the introduction of someone new.
The writing of the wind is beautifully descriptive and tells the reader there’s much more than just the wind to come and that it is meaningful.
There are the cacao beans and this time, also wild strawberries, filling the senses and emotions and there’s once again change. Change which every parent with growing children will be able to relate to. Anouk, Vianne’s daughter has, as expected, grown up and flown the nest. The words of this are filled with emotion. Rosette – Vianne’s winter child, as she calls her, is also growing and may not be able to say much, has vision and yet also what she and Vianne refer to as “accidents”.
I like how Rosette is written and the contrast between what people think, alongside their pity, in comparison to what Vianne, as her mother, feels, is well observed and as a reader, creates emotion inside.
Roux still lives on his boat, preferring to live on his own without the community of Lansquenet, that he does not trust, but is still a presence in Vianne’s life, who, lets face it, is also different, although accepted, from the people who originate in the area. This, throughout the books, for me, anyway, is very relatable to in small towns and villages. Things have evolved from Chocolat though and Reynaud is now no longer seeing her as the enemy come to spoil tradition and break “rules”, but as a friend.
There’s a new character for readers to become intrigued about – Morgane Dubois who unsettles Vianne. Joanne’s writing certainly made me feel the uneasiness and suspicious of what would actually happen with this incomer. A sense of fear is deftly created.
There are wild strawberries that seem to stir up some atmosphere and emotions and conjure up lovely imagery of them growing in the strawberry wood. This story hits upon all the senses. It has a way of drawing in the reader closer and closer until you’re nearly within touching and smelling distance that lasts from the beginning to the end. The strawberries serve a purpose however, they aren’t just there to pretty things up. There’s also a strawberry thief, as you’d expect from the title and readers should continue on with the book to discover much more about this.
The writing is atmospheric and descriptive, giving a real sense of place, but cleverly also adds to the intrigue. This is worth all the wait and the buzz that surrounds books written by Joanne Harris. It is available now in bookshops, libraries and online.
Joanne Harris, in all her wisdom has done something quite wonderful in her physical books, especially for Waterstones, she has exclusive copies whereby books aren’t just signed, but also contains a very poignant afterword and a short story called The Cat Child. Joanne Harris is well-known for supporting bookshops and libraries (as well as authors) and her actions in both the past and present always speak volumes, which is admirable.
The afterword gives great insight about certain parallels between Joanne’s family life and what is written in the fictional story as well as further thoughts.
The Cat Child is poignant and resonates. It’s not some random short story, this is well thought out. It has some similar themes to The Strawberry Thief. There’s the daughter whose soul keeps soaring and the mother who is trying to keep her grounded, whereby there’s a younger daughter who is the cat child, never quite growing up and managing to leave. One night, however something “magical” occurs…
The Cat Child is also worth 5 stars. It’s concise, poignant and terrifically atmospheric.all within just a few pages, which is a skill within itself. It also feels like it accompanies the main story very well.