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'Chocolat' Author Returns with a Dark Confection

by Martha Woodroof
May 2, 2008 (Morning Edition)

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Martha Woodroof

Joanne Harris' new novel, The Girl with No Shadow, revisits the supernaturally sensuous world of the author's 1996 book, Chocolat.

The story picks up five years after Vianne Rocher closed the door of her mystical candy shop. Now a mother of two daughters, she is attempting to live a quiet, non-magical, dutifully maternal life in Montmartre. But when an exotic stranger named Zozie enters the scene, Vianne realizes that it's not always easy to swear off the supernatural.

Harris says she took up Vianne Rocher's story again because it just didn't feel finished after Chocolat. But if that first book was milk chocolate, Harris calls her latest work "dark chocolate." She describes the new novel as a dark, urban fairy tale.

"Chocolat was very much about what makes you happy, whereas The Girl with No Shadow is what makes you afraid," Harris says.

Though fantastical, Harris says Vianne's world, in which seemingly ordinary people live decidedly extraordinary lives, was inspired, in part, by her own childhood.

"I had a great grandmother who believed in so many strange superstitions," Harris recalls. "She used to tell the future from the things that catch on to the hem of your skirt when you've been sewing, and different colored threads would mean different things. ... Of course, all that influenced me quite a lot as a child."

As for the mixture of magic and confection, Harris says it was only after she finished Chocolat that she realized the extent of people's interest in chocolate, and how much history and folklore has been attached to it.

"We've always had this sort of built-in idea that confectionary and witchcraft are somehow linked," she says, adding that the appeal of chocolate is that it's both delicious and — somehow — wrong.

Martha Woodroof reports from member station WMRA in Harrisonburg, VA.

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