I am no chocolate fiend. In fact, I have a far more savoury than sweet tooth and don't often order dessert in a restaurant.
But by gosh, when I first read Joanne Harris' Chocolat, all I could think about for days afterward was chocolate. It wasn't because there were torturously exquisite descriptions of chocolate with "a tiny hint of chilli pepper" or "unrefined cocoa nibs from Guatemala", it was more because the characters danced off the page.
It felt as if I could really open my front door and step into Vianne and Anouk's chocolaterie in France, where I'd be greeted by Vianne with a selection of pralines, and Anouk would play by my feet while I sipped from a steaming mug of cocoa.
Chocolat was, quite simply, food porn in book form.
Harris has written many more bestselling novels after Chocolat. I've read a fair number of them and always find her books strangely uplifting, which is a real gift - because she tackles some serious subjects.
Even Chocolat, which could have gone down the path of the dreary and depressing; it is, after all, the story of a single mother who is shunned by the uppity, uptight townsfolk for daring to be brave and beautiful and independent, is full of lightness and the simple, sensual joy to be found from the small things in life.
Such as a perfect piece of chocolate, rolled and melted slowly on the tongue so the flavour stays in your mouth for what feels like forever.
I actually read Chocolat after I watched the film, and I was surprised by how different the feel of the book was to the movie. While each had its merits, I'm glad I picked up the novel as well, because while the film was great, the language in the book is a joy to read. And the images it put into my head stayed for days after.
In fact, I may just go and make myself a cup of hot chocolate now. And if I'm not too busy tomorrow, I will put my apron on and bake a ganache, with a hint of chilli and a sprinkle of magic.
Have you read Chocolat? What did you think of it?
* Next week's book club title is The World According to Garp, by John Irving.
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