The imagery of food
Joanne Harris’ depictions of food are often elaborate and sensuous – but not enough so for some readers.
Harris has written three novels with food-related titles – Chocolat, and its two sequels The Lollipop Shoes and Peaches for Monsieur le Cure´ .
She visited New Zealand this week for the Christchurch Writers’ Festival.
Some people are ‘‘ quite obsessed’’ with Harris’ descriptions of food, and complain they want more, she said.
‘‘They read it as some form of food porn,’’ she said.
‘‘In reality it is just a literary device. To me it was a kind of emotional entry point into what makes people who they are.
‘‘How people relate to food is a kind of entry to their character. Food is a universal point of connection.
‘‘In a world where we are all separated by barriers of culture and lifestyle, food is still an area which everybody understands.’’
Harris, who is half-French, half-English, has also written two cookbooks, but said she favours neither cuisine.
‘‘I’m happy to eat whatever is popular wherever I go. In France I eat French food.
‘‘I eat whatever is local and whatever is in season,’’ she said.
Her French mother advised her to eat lots of lamb while in New Zealand.
‘‘She has never really forgiven me for marrying a vegetarian,’’ Harris said.
‘‘When I visit France I explain that I am afflicted with a vegetarian and they are always very understanding.’’
With Chocolat, Harris achieved something only four other female British authors have done – sold more than a million copies of one book.
She has now reached the point where theses are written analysing her work.
Some readers see things that are not necessarily there.
‘‘ The thing is, books are Rorschach tests.
‘‘What people see in a book is often as much about them as what is in the book,’’ she said.
‘‘I’m not one of those writers who sets out with an agenda of what they want people to come away with.
‘‘I’ve now quit being a teacher and telling people what to do.’’
Among the recurring themes of her work are strangers who disrupt established order and a kind of low-key, implied magic.
‘‘The outsider is always the person who starts the story off,’’ she said.
Peaches for Monsieur le Cure´ also concerns outsiders.
The outsider of Chocolat, Vianne Rocher, returns to Lansquenet, where she finds new outsiders have taken up residence. Moroccans have brought very alien dress, customs and food.
Harris visited New Zealand in part to promote the release of the paperback edition of Peaches for Monsieur le Cure´ , and a new book of short stories not yet released outside New Zealand, A Cat, a Hat and a Piece of String.
Food pornographer: Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, was in Wellington to promote two new books.