The Girl With No Shadow

September 2, 2009 at 9:34 am 2 comments

Well, that’s my cue. Smiling, I stand, and I have time for one last celebratory sip of champagne before all eyes are upon me–hopeful, fearful, furious, worshipful–as now at least I claim the prize…”Vianne Rocher? That would be me.”

Part of the charm of Joanne Harris’ Chocolat was its ambiguity. Perhaps that’s not the right word: subtlety might be better. The time period was a little unclear, anywhere from the 1950s to the present day. The setting? Oh, somewhere in a tiny French village with a river. And the exact nature of Vianne’s magical capabilities was left mostly to the reader’s imagination, with only hints of an Aztec heritage for guidance.

In The Girl with No Shadow, the sequel to Chocolat, Harris has removed most of the questions and mystery that made the first book so intriguing. Identity theft and the Internet enter the narrative together on the third page, placing the story squarely in the twenty-first century. Gone is Vianne’s chocolate and intuition-based magic, replaced by more specific, cliched magical spells and enchantments that involve scratching symbols on chocolate boxes, reading auras, and invoking the spirit of something called One Jaguar.

Gone too is Vianne’s appealing personality, a personality that made the first book so amazing. Vianne was a lively, loveable character, exotic and mysterious, an excellent mother who made the best hot cocoa in the whole world. Renamed Yanne in The Girl with No Shadow, Vianne is portrayed is a beaten-down woman who at first doesn’t even make her own chocolate any more, and who through much of the book refuses to use her skills to help herself and those around her.

Vianne’s more appealing characteristics have been transferred to Zozie, a new character whose early introduction as an identity theif and all-around con artist makes it impossibel for the reader to sympathize with her and bask in the benevolence and glamourous mystery the Vianne character exuded at her best.

Overall, this book is jarring to fans of its prequel. The story redeems itself and gains some of Chocolat‘s spirit and life in the last few chapters, but there are still far too many loose ends to allow me to recommend it wholeheartedly. (Why is Zozie so specifically interested in Vianne? Where did Vianne’s powers come from? What is the specific nature of Rosette’s disability, and why is it important to the story?)

I can’t help but feel this story would have been better if Harris had not introduced the modern identity theft angle, which would have at least made the time period a little more congruent with Chocolat. However, had she done that, she would have essentially been re-writing The Talented Mr. Ripley (in fact, even with the modern angle, I’m not sure she hasn’t).

If you were a fan of Chocolat and are desperate to know more about Anouck, Vianne, Roux and of course Pantoufle, then by all means give this book a try. Check first at your local library, though, as I’m not convinced this is a book worth buying.

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Entry filed under: Contemporary Fiction. Tags: .

From NYTimes: Where does a love of reading come from? Timely Rereadings

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Corey  |  September 4, 2009 at 6:42 am

    Quelle disappointment! This sounds rather dreadful and utterly lacking in the charm of the first book. I am particularly annoyed that she brought identity theft into it. That just seems anachronistic (even without a previously established time frame) and pointless.

    Reply
    • 2. KT  |  September 4, 2009 at 9:24 am

      I know, right? I was all disoriented for the first few chapters, like I had wandered into the wrong book. Ugh. Like I said, it has some of the charm of the original, but overall it was a pretty frustrating experience.

      Reply

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