Other side of en­chant­ment

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Ker­ryn Goldswor­thy

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.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Jock Alexan­der

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