Other side of enchantment
JOANNE Harris has said that she doesn’t much like the word sequel and prefers to think of The Lollipop Shoes as a continuation. It’s more than four years on from the end of Chocolat and the enchanting Vianne Rocher has two daughters: Anouk is 11 and Rosette is nearly four. Vianne has sworn off all forms of magic, hoping it will mean she will be able to settle down peacefully and make a secure life for her children. She has changed her name and moved to Paris, where she runs a chocolaterie in a shop owned by the prosperous, generous and increasingly amorous Thierry le Tresset.
But with the extra burden of the strange younger daughter and without using her special talents, Vianne can’t run an enterprise the way she used to: the shop is drab, the business struggling and the chocolates second- rate, for she no longer makes them herself.
And she still has battles to fight. One is with her feelings, as her gratitude to Thierry comes into sharp conflict with her feelings for Rosette’s father. Another is with the wind, the source of irresistible restlessness that deposited her in the village of Lansquenet five years earlier, then whisked her and her family away again.
A third battle, her hardest and harshest, is just as it was in Chocolat , with a spiritual force in opposition to her own. And this time her opponent is not the church but something much closer and more dangerous: a fellow witch and a kind of dark twin, the enchanting but treacherous Zozie de l’Alba. Zozie is an expert identity thief, a stealer of souls, and though part of her game involves impersonating Vianne, her real target is the impressionable and troubled Anouk.
Zozie descends on the family in her magical red shoes like a brightly coloured whirlwind, and proceeds to restore to the shop the glamour and enchantment that Vianne once exercised in her old days in Lansquenet. Zosie’s shoes recall all sorts of enchanted footwear, from the demonic red dancing shoes of the Hans Christian Andersen tale to Dorothy’s ruby slippers in The Wizard of Oz, and Anouk is as enchanted by them as any young girl in a fairytale: ‘‘ Those fabulous, luminous high- heeled shoes in lipstick, candy- cane, lollipop red, gleaming like treasure.’’
The story is narrated in turns by Zozie, Vianne and Anouk, with a skilful build- up of multiple perspectives: Anouk’s early adolescent triumphs and agonies, Zozie’s hard- nosed reminiscences and plans, Vianne’s anxieties and uncertainties. The fears of a mother for her adolescent daughter are particularly clear and poignant, and it’s no surprise to discover that Harris has one of her own.
Harris does a particularly clever job on the narrative voice of the sinister Zozie, who starts out as a sort of cartoon baddie — think Endora from Bewitched or Cruella de Vil — and gradually darkens into a genuinely evil presence: ‘‘ She smells like dead crab and gasoline. Her hands are like bunches of bones; her hair is like rotting seaweed.’’ Mexico, the home of chocolate and ancient violence, is Zozie’s spiritual home and the place of her chance awakening as a malevolent spirit, in a scene that will put you off pinatas for life.
One of Harris’s main subjects in both these books is the doubleness of enchantment. Charm can be used for cheering, healing and pleasing other people or it can be used to seduce, possess and destroy them; the good and evil lie not in the magic but in the human motivations behind its use. It’s all a bit like Harry Potter for grown- ups, an observation I’m sure somebody must have made before and one that is intended as a lavish compliment.
But if you’re not prepared to suspend your disbelief and read a tale of witchcraft for the sake of the story, the characters, the allegorical meanings and the literary gifts that Harris, like J. K. Rowling, lavishes on her creations, then this book will leave you cold. Either one is responsive to enchantment, beauty, glamour, charm and chocolate or one is not.
The original novel Chocolat was much sharper, richer and more complex than the movie, charming and glorious as Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp may have been. But The Lollipop Shoes is even darker and yet more complicated: the equivalent of that nearly bitter and nearly black chocolate, almost pure cocoa, that you can buy only in specialty shops and should eat in tiny fragments. Kerryn Goldsworthy is an Adelaide writer and critic.