The Strawberry Thief is a book that comes with strong credentials as it is written by Joanne Harris. In 2000, her 1999 novel Chocolat was adapted to the screen, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. She is an honorary Fellow of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, and in 2013 was awarded an MBE by the Queen. I was expecting great things and I was not disappointed. I would not call this book a typical page turner although others do. Rather it is like a very fine French red wine that is there to be indulged in and to be savoured over time. Like the best of wines, there are undertones that intrigue and delight. Like a wine, you can enjoy the anticipation as you get the first hint of its magic from the nose, enjoy the experience of the drinking in of the story and then cherish the memories made during that particular soiree.
As a reader, you are transported to the fictional French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes. I have lived in France for a period and the rich writing really gets over that special air of a French village full of characters and a wonderful culture. We have the chocolaterie, the florist and the church. We have very diverse characters living their lives and confronting their challenges as best they can.
The Strawberry Thief
There are changes in the village first sensed and then coming firmly into view. The Strawberry Thief centres around the will of village florist Narcisse, who leaves his land to Vianne’s very special and unique daughter, Rosette. This causes annoyance to say the least to his own blood relatives. Another legacy is a written confession for Father Reynaud which will evoke strong emotions in the priest. Vianne will also face new challenges and feelings as a new shop opens in the village. The book has chapters in the voices of Vianne the mother, Rosette the daughter with special needs and Reynaud the priest.
Reflections on villages and life
The novel made me reflect on something my late Dad told me not too long before he became terminally ill. “Life changes” he said. It sounds quite a trite saying but the way he said it delivered a meaning and perhaps a prediction of what would play out in our family life all too soon. When I arrived in a charming French village for a new adventure, I loved the friendliness of the place and the strong characters. I wanted it to stay the same forever and actually believed it could. Time tells a different story with one of my favourite male characters moving away, with the end of romantic relationships and the start of new ones. The village has seen business changes, disputes and deaths. There is even talk of murder so I can see parallels between a village I know well in France and the village in the Strawberry Thief.
More to life than we know
I loved how this novel got over a concept my late mum used to share with me that there is more to this life than we know. I think the concept she talked of has many layers to it. There are the secrets and shames we keep to ourselves terrified that they may be revealed at some point. There are our fears of change. There are our instincts and feelings. Why did my mum always fear Concorde convinced it would harm our family? How can we meet someone and know that we know them on a heart level even on our first meeting? Is it the people who are often rejected or seen as outsiders who end up being the ones who can contribute most to the world? Is there a magic behind all this?
I cannot rate Joanne Harris’ writing highly enough. It is poetic and beautiful. It gets over the characters in great detail. It is a complex tale as characters in the village learn to navigate each other. I have heard other reviewers use words like magical, enchanting and gothic and quite fairly too. I think it is the type of book that every individual will get something different from much like life, wine. chocolate and strawberries.