Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Book 31: The Girl With No Shadow

The Girl With No Shadow is a sequel to the author's novel, Chocolat, although sometimes it reads more like a sequel to the film that was based on the novel.  While it wasn't a bad book, I disliked where Vianne Rocher had ended up - after all, Chocolat ends on such a positive note, with Vianne having overcome her fear of the Black Man, that it is disappointing to see her here, trying to hide behind normalcy.  While the author eventually reveals the backstory about what led to her decision, it still seemed out of character, and not quite convincing enough.

Set over four years after the events of Chocolat, Vianne and her daughters Anouk and Rosette are living in the Parisian Montmartre district, running a chocolate shop.  Vianne now goes by Yanne Charbonneau, Anouk is Annie, and the chocolates are no longer home-made, but bought and resold.  The store is struggling, and Vianne is in a relationship with the stable Thierry le Tresset, her landlord.  While Thierry seems to love his idea of Vianne or Yanne, it also becomes clear that he likes the idea of himself as the knight in white armor who comes to rescue the damsel in distress since he seems less than excited when Vianne starts needing him less and the store turns around.  Of course, as the reader knows, Zozie de L'Alba, the woman that helps turn the store around is not a trustworthy character, and Vianne should have a few doubts about her motivations.  Given events that occured after Chocolat, and around the time of Rosette's birth, Vianne has decided not to use any type of magic, and shields her children from it.  As a result, she also does not notice that Zozie uses magic symbols to entice people in the chocolate shop and to help the business along.  Since Vianne avoids the subject, Anouk becomes fascinated with Zozie, seeing in her a reminder of their time in Lansquenet which Anouk still remembers fondly.

I think one of the things that made Chocolat the stronger novel is that while the priest was set up as the antagonist, he wasn't clearly described as evil.  He simply had a very set belief structure, and was trying to work within that.  Zozie is set up as charming and seductive, but from the very beginning it is clear that she doesn't just use magic to make her life easier - she also uses it for spiteful and vengeful purposes.  The first chapter she describes how easy it is to pretend to be other people, and how the dead continue to receive mail, making it easy to steal their identities.  If it had simply stayed with the idea that Zozie makes her living via credit card fraud and small time scams, it would have made for a more nuanced novel, but it quickly becomes clear that there is something much more sinister behind her actions and motivations.  Anouk becomes fascinated with the woman and while it is understandable, it is also frustrating given the readers' additional knowledge and Vianne's blindness to the situation.

Earlier I mentioned that this novel felt more like a sequel to the film than to the novel.  The reason for this is based entirely on the portrayal of the character Roux.  Since I read the book after having seen the film a few times, as soon as Roux showed up in Chocolat, I was waiting for his relatonship with Vianne to start, and kept reading romantic intentions into their interactions.  However, Vianne describes Roux as a good man that she wouldn't be able to treat fairly, and also firmly believes that Roux and her friend Josephine are the lovers that keep showing up in her tarot card readings.  While she and Roux hook up one night, to Vianne it is simply part of the moment, and she hopes it will not interfere with his developing relationship with Josephine.  In fact, by the end of Chocolat, he has moved into Josephine's cafe.  While I wonder if perhaps there was more romantic tension than Vianne wanted to admit to that Harris then builds on in this novel, in my opinion, the fact that Roux suddenly becomes such a huge character has much more to do with the film version and the fact that he was portrayed by Johnny Depp (back before Johnny Depp started really not being able to dress himself in public).  Reading the novel, one could easily believe that Vianne and Roux had a relationship but that Vianne ended up opting out because Roux wasn't stable enough.  If anything, Chocolat's Vianne didn't think she was stable enough, and she saw Roux as a brief encounter that led to her daughter Rosette.  I can buy them staying in touch, but this whole idea of Roux suddenly being the love of Vianne's life and vice versa?  That relationship simply wasn't present in the previous novel.  Of course, this isn't the first time a novel sequel has been influenced by a film adaption.  After all, Jurassic Park's sequel was narrated by a character that had died in the novel but survived in the film (the character states he was only temporarily dead or mostly dead).

Overall, this wasn't a bad novel but it didn't have the same appeal as the prequel.  It may have worked better as a stand-alone novel since then the reader wouldn't feel the disappointment about where Vianne has ended up and could instead view it as a novel about temptation and mother-daughter relationships.  The other thing is that while this novel also contains a large cast of customers and community, none of these characters have nearly as much personality or impact as the assorted cast of extras in Chocolat.  The only characters that really seem developed are the three rotating narrators of Vianne, Anouk and Zozie.  I am still curious to read the sequel since it takes Vianne back to Lasquenet, the village from Chocolat.

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