'Chocolat' author gives a taste of darker treats in her sequel

By Ian Herbert

She was the beautiful and enigmatic stranger who changed the image of chocolatiers for ever by acquainting an oppressed French village with her delectable "nipples of Venus", hazelnut clusters and chocolate sea shells before heading into the sunset with an amour.

Now Vianne Rocher, the subversive heroine of Joanne Harris' Whitbread-shortlisted novel Chocolat, is to return in a sequel.

Vianne, played in the film adaptation by Juliette Binoche, and her daughter Anuok, a character based on Harris's daughter Anouchka, materialise in the Montmartre district of Paris for the author's sequel, The Lollipop Shoes, which the Barnsley writer promises will be a darker novel than the first and is set four years after the conclusion of Chocolat.

The new novel reveals what became evident as the first novel wore on: that Vianne would never be able to settle in the village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, in Gascony, where she arrived with six-year-old Anuok to set up her chocolaterie, La Celeste Praline.

"This time they have settled in Paris instead," Harris said.

"Mother and daughter have changed but not always in the best ways."

The location might be different but it seems the chocolate theme will run through into the sequel, which Harris expects to finish by the end of the year and which will be published in May.

"Fans of the chocolate scenes will not be disappointed," she said.

In the first novel - a publishing phenomenon - Vianne has something of a white witch element about her when she arrives in town with her sprite-like daughter to sell chocolates opposite the church at the start of Lent.

"I sell dreams, small comforts, sweet harmless temptations to bring down a multitude of saints crash-crash-crashing amongst the hazels and nougatines," Vianne says.

Inevitably, she comes into conflict with the self-righteous priest, Francis Reynaud - "a man-shaped darkness cut into the air".

Though church presents no such conflict in the new novel, there is another enemy.

It is "someone someone much closer to Vianne, a strong, ruthless female," Harris reveals.

The magic scenes will also be replicated.

The return of Vianne may surprise fans of Harris who, on her website two years ago, said she doubted that she would write about Vianne again.

"Perhaps one day I'll write about Anouk as she grows up, but for now I have no idea what happened to either of them," she said at the time.

The temptation has evidently proved irresistible, though Harris insists she was under no pressure from her publishers, Doubleday, to deliver a sequel.

Harris also has a young-adult fantasy novel, Runemarks, in the pipeline and will contribute a chapter to a "chain novel" (in which authors take it in turn to add to a story), which will be written within a fortnight for a literature festival next month.


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