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#BookReview: The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris

The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris was my pick for a food book prompt but after I finished reading it, I realised it won’t do. This book was gifted to me by Jayanthy for Xmas and was a much lusted after book by me. I have decided to put it under the prompt ” A book that’s part of the series”. This one takes up from Chocolat and can be called the fourth installment.

Title: The Strawberry Thief

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hachette

Author: Joanne Harris

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I am huge fan on Chocolat by Joanne Harris and couldn’t wait to dig into this 4th installment of the story line which began with Vianne Rocher  and her adventures with opening up a chocolaterie in a quaint little town called Lansquenet-sous-Tannes. Reynaud the priest was once her staunchest opposition but now is part of her friend circle. The shop sits pretty in the market square and she keeps busy with her customers, staff and her friends who drop in for a chat now and then.

Her older child Anouk has left for Paris with her boyfriend and is working there. Vianne misses her terribly and has taken to keeping a mobile phone on which she types out messages to her. In response Anouk sends her snippets of her life with pictures and anecdotes.

Vianne has had another child, Rosette whose father is the mysterious Roux who is wary of towns people and goes out of his way to stay away from them all. He lives on a boat by the river and is part of the river gypsies clan that often comes by to the town.

“She has never been like other girls, never like other children. Rosette is a force of nature, like the jackdaws that sit on the steeple and laugh, like a fall of unseasonal snow, like the blossom on the wind.”― Joanne Harris, The Strawberry Thief

The story begins with Rosette who is not keen to speak and seems to communicate via hand signals and her drawings. She has an imaginary creature as her friend who seems to be her constant companion and her alter ego too. Vianne calls her, her special child which brings about a lot of head shaking and rueful looks from other women in the town.

Trouble flares up when Narcisse the florist dies and leaves his wooded estate to Rosette and rest everything to his daughter. Hell breaks loose as the wood is prime real estate commodity and the daughter is convinced of some trick on Vianne’s part in the way the inheritance has played out. Narcisse has made Roux the manager of this estate for Rosette and left a letter for Reynaud to explain his decision to him and also make him the executor of his will. The letter is actually a confession of sorts and brings to light a tragedy in Narcisse family, years ago.

Reynaud begins to read the letter and has trouble doing so for it opens up a Pandora’s box in his head. His past demons come to haunt him and he fears being found out for his sins by the townspeople. Narcisse’s daughter starts hounding him to let her read the letter as she is convinced there is a treasure hidden in the woods. The letter is “misplaced” several times before its finally returned to Reynaud who finishes reading it.

“Sometimes, being told not to do something just makes us want it all the more. Sometimes, a little of what you crave is better than total abstinence.”― Joanne Harris, The Strawberry Thief

Roux refuses to adhere to the letter of the will and tells Vianne that he is finally leaving. Vianne is broken hearted but unable to express that to him. She had hoped that Rosette would be enough to keep him around.

While this drama is being played out, a mysterious stranger, Morgane Dubois enters the market place and seems to enchant all she meets. She claims to be a tattoo artist and sets up her shop in the newly vacated florist shop, bang opposite the chocolaterie. Rosette is very drawn to the shop and the stranger. She loves the motif of strawberry flowers on everything in the shop and ends up getting a tattoo made of it.

The shop is very mysterious and people swear that they could see reflections in the mirrors of people who were no more or past versions of their lives that made them wonder.

Beware, Morgane. You thought I wasn’t dangerous? That chocolate was too sweet, too soft to rival your ink and your needles? Chocolate is an ancient art. It comes from very far away. And under the softness, the sweetness- it waits. And it is bitter.”― Joanne Harris, The Strawberry Thief

Vianne is suspicious of this stranger as she reminds her of someone, but who she is not sure. She tries to keep Rosette away from her by trying to get the priest to make this stranger leave. She hopes to fuel some speculation about the tattoo artist and the bad influence on the young people in the town. But to her shock, almost everyone she meets has gone to her and got a tattoo made, including Roux.

Who is his tattoo artist and what does she want?

Is there a buried treasure in the woods?

Why did Narcisse leave the woods to Rosette?

What are the contents of the letter?

What is the secret haunting Reynaud?

You will need to read the book to know more.

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Lasting impression on me:

This one is not as gripping or romantic as the first book and did lead to some heart break as I expected the romance between Roux and Vianne to be more defined in this one. But Roux makes a half-hearted appearance and seems to be fading out of the story.

The tale begins on an almost similar note to Chocolat as its the same sleepy little town in South West France where Lent is just being observed. The story takes a little time to sink in as the first few pages can be a bit confounding with all the characters popping out of them.

The character of Rosette stands out in this story and I love how her thought process is outlined by Harris. The constant presence of wind add the whimsical notes of magic to the tale that would take you back to Chocolat. The story deals with the topic of children with special needs and how people react to them. More importantly, how such individuals feel when being treated so.

The letter becomes the singular focal point of the story but then the reading of the letter is dragged out by the author to the nth degree. I was very disappointed at the pace of the novel as soon as it touched this topic. The musings of the Priest were at odds with the story line and I feel that those could have been tightened up with lesser details.

The magic and mystery surrounding Morgane Dubois and the description of her and her shop, took my breath away. The author made me fall in love with this tattoo parlour much the same as in the case of the chocolaterie. This, I think, is her strength in writing these tales.

But despite all the mystery and whimsy, the book fell short for me on my expectations. It didnt enthrall me as much as Chocolat and Lollipop Shoes. I found Vianne to be cunning and scared; qualities I dont want her to be associated with. Her tricks to drive out Morgane were repulsive to me as this is what she had faced when she first came into this town. She had stood up to all the opposition and suspicion about her, yet now she rakes it all up against Morgane.

Then there was the mysterious son of Michelle who needed to be home cared and he made too many appearances in the story. I felt he was quite an unnecessary character as were some of the remnants from Chocolat who do make an appearance but don’t fit the plot.

My Rating:

The ending of the book was not the ultimate climax that I was expecting and left me wanting more. Perhaps its my own expectations that led me down. So my rating for this one is a 31/2 / 5 stars as I still feel fans of Joanne Harris should read it to be almost transported back to Chocolat.

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12 thoughts on “#BookReview: The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris

  1. I’m scared of reading any other book of Joanne Harris after Chocolat because I don’t want it to spoil my memory of it. I have ‘Lollypop Shoes’ and ‘Blackberry Wine’, but I just can’t seem to get to it.

    1. I can so totally understand that. I have read Lollipop shoes and one more I think. Blackberry wine is missing from my list- shall get to it. I love the way she writes even if some of it seems disjointed or leaves one wanting for more. I love this world that she has created in these books.

  2. I should learn writing a good review from you seems like my kind of book with interesting characters and enough twists in the story. By the way, I love your pin design for book review.

  3. I know I’ll read this one when I get the chance. Though I’d hate Vianne’s transformation too. It just doesn’t fit in with her charcater. I have Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure. Hope to get to it soon.

  4. I havent read any books from Joanne Harris. Will check out Chocolat first. Should the 4 books be read as a series or can they be read as a standalone books too?

    1. Oh you will love reading Chocolate. And no all the books are a separate story, just the characters continue or grow up and so on. But each tale can be read in isolation. Look forward to reading your thoughts on the book Shilpa.

  5. I’m finally here reading the review of this book. The main reason I chose this book was because my daughter loves strawberries. Otherwise, I did not have the slightest idea about the book except I found this in your TBR. I am left with no choice but to add all books to my TBR this year. The libraries are closed due to Corona and my TBR pile lays at home. I’m waiting to collect them soon this year. I must try reading Joanne Harris, but I guess this will have to wait. I will try Chocolat first.

  6. I have not read any of her books and after reading your review I feel like I am missing out on something really good. Love the storyline. And your review is so impressive too. Will check it out.

  7. I really love the novelty you bring into reviews that reads like a book and with synopsis, followed by review. I never heard about the author and would love to read about chocolat.

    1. Thanks so much Vishal. Joanne Harris writes quite eloquently and I feel Chocolat is her best book to date. If you do get around to reading it, please do share your review of it with me.

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