Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris

It has been several years since I saw Chocolat.  So long, in fact, that I had actually forgotten Johnny Depp was in the movie.  This, mes cheries, is why I keep a book blog (formerly known as a journal): I forget everything.  Besides the beautiful JD, I am sure the whole French thing had something to do with my appreciation of this movie.  Whatever the reason, it was enough to get me to pick up Joanne Harris' Five Quarters of the Orange - also set in France - at the used bookstore sometime in the last year.  Harris wrote Chocolat, which I have not read, but I have had this one on the shelves for awhile.  Ooh.  Remind me to tell you more about my TBR shelves later.  Don't let me forget.

So.  Food.  Harris likes to build her tales around it, I presume, as there was all that chocolate in Chocolat and a lot of other deliciousness in Five Quarters of the Orange.  In this one, though, food plays a prominent while still bizarrely understated role.  The narrator, Framboise, (like her mother) is an excellent cook; there are several restaurant owners and chefs in the family; a recipe book plays an important part in the unfolding of the plot; several characters are named after foods; and the narrator's mother has a neural or psychological disorder that causes her to smell oranges just before the onset of crippling migraines.  But there is very little enjoyment taken in all this attention to food.  It is mentioned constantly, but it is just mentioned rather than savored or lingered over.  Put it this way: I did not read this book and feel inspired to cook.

It is a dark tale about the narrator, her mother, her siblings, and their German-occupied town during the war.  The story unfolds haltingly, by design, because Harris wanted to mimic the reluctance and burdensome nature of telling these secrets the narrator has been holding for so long.  Something happened in that town for which the narrator's mother was blamed, something which has become well-known, making her mother somewhat infamous.  These things we are told on the back of the book.  But what we aren't told is the reason for the whole book, and Framboise takes her time getting there.  Though the telling of the story in that jerky fashion makes sense, it did not help this reader invest fully in the story.  Even immediately after finishing it, I wasn't sure why the mother would have become widely known for what happened.  Though dramatic on a personal or familial level, I can't imagine anyone caring that much about it very many years later.  I also didn't really understand the narrator's relationship with Paul.  The author tries to explain how he could seem really dumb, borderline mentally disabled, but sometimes he was a thoughtful, complex, and intelligent person.  How does that work exactly?  I didn't understand why Framboise didn't appreciate him more from the beginning, and I really didn't care very much once their relationship began to grow.  It just didn't gel for me.  Perhaps it was more complex than I was interested in at this point, but I'm afraid it is more likely to have been more complex than the author was able to make work.  So this one will find its way back to the used bookstore sooner than later.

On that note, I have an announcement:  we're moving.  Again.  We're finally going to finish the renovations on our house and make the big move early this summer.  And yes, I know that it is only January, and yes, I know I already had this conversation about NOT moving all those unread books until I went ahead and moved most of them 2 years ago, but this time, I'm serious.  I am making a serious, public commitment to reading more of those TBR books between now and May.  I am making an even more serious commitment to not buying any more books before the move.  Is that possible for me, you think?  I did just order a copy of A Sand County Almanac today, but that one is definitely a keeper.  So, that's it.  Just me and the TBRs until May.  God help me.

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