"Chocolat" author Joanne Harris comes to Hilton Head to discuss new novel

jpaprocki@islandpacket.comOctober 7, 2012 

  • The University of South Carolina Beaufort opens its fall Lunch with the Author series with Joanne Harris Oct. 11 at the Omni Hilton Head Oceanfront Resort. All luncheons begin at noon, followed by an author's talk, questions and book signing. Reservations: 843-521-4147 or kingsley@uscb.edu. Cost is $42.

Food usually plays a crucial role in Joanne Harris' writing.

In "Chocolat," a young mother creates a stir in a small French village when she opens a chocolaterie during Lent. Her latest novel follows the same character, Vianne, as she returns to the village nearly a decade later. In "Peaches for Father Francis," as the title suggests, food once again plays a major part. This time, the conflict revolves around a Muslim population that has taken root in the town.

"I've always liked the juxtaposition of food and fasting in stories because both are such emotional concepts. ... The working title of this book was 'Peaches at Ramadan'," Harris wrote in an email.

"The peach has a number of symbolic meanings. In Chinese mythology it is an image of rebirth and immortality; in European folklore it has magical associations, symbolizing the human heart.

"Incidentally, among some Indian and Pakistani communities in England, 'peaches' is a slang term, referring to under-age Western girls. This provides a nicely sinisounterpoint to the sweeter imagery."

Harris will be speaking more about her novel at University of South Carolina Beaufort's Lunch with Author series Oct. 11.

"Peaches" is the third book to chronicle the life of the mystical Vianne Rocher and her daughter. The first was "Chocolat," published in 1999, and it catapulted the English author to stardom. The movie starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp was nominated for five Academy Awards including best picture.

Harris has since had a string of best-sellers. "The Lollipop Shoes" (released in 2007 as "The Girl with No Shadow" in America) revisited Vianne as she settled in another part of France. Other novels, such as "Gentleman & Players," in part inspired by her pre-novelist life as a teacher, explored other themes. But Harris still felt drawn to the heroine who helped launch her career.

"I said at the time (after 'Chocolat' was published) that I wouldn't write about Vianne again," Harris said. "I had other stories to tell and other territories to explore, but I think I always felt deep down that she and I had unfinished business."

The character is a free spirit with ties into the mystic and magical, yet still grounded. She is a single mother who does what she can to provide. Harris, although married, also has a young daughter.

"In some ways her experience has parallels with my own, especially as the mother of a daughter of equivalent age," she said. "Perhaps that's what links us so strongly."

Harris is uncertain what she'll write next. But don't expect Vianne's story to stop with a trilogy.

"I don't believe that we have seen the last of each other," she said. "One day she'll come knocking at my door again. If she does, I'll follow her."

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