Author Joanne Harris tackles clashes of culture and religion in her latest novel. But, as she tells Hannah Stephenson, she’s not holding her breath for another movie starring Johnny Depp
FORMER teacher and now best-selling author Joanne Harris is busy preparing for a major book tour of the UK followed by promotions in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the US.
“It’s nice to be in demand,” she reflects.
“I find that the attitude of people in different countries to literature varies enormously.
“If I’m in Scandinavia, they tend to ask me very intellectual questions about the themes and metaphors and the process of writing, whereas if I go to Italy, they tend to ask me more lifestyle questions and about cooking and relationships.
“And if I go to the States, they want to know about movies and if I got to meet Johnny Depp.”
Fans of her best-selling novel Chocolat, which was made into a hit movie starring Depp and Juliette Binoche in 2000, are now clamouring for a copy of Peaches For Monsieur Le Cure, the third in the series featuring the same characters, following on from The Lollipop Shoes.
It is set eight years on, when the deliciously sinful chocolate shop in the rural French village of Lansquenet is now a ruined building owned by a mysterious incomer Ines Bencharki, her face hidden by a niqab (a veil worn by Muslim women).
The village priest, Father Reynaud, has become the outcast amid a community of Moroccans on one side of the river and locals on the other, and finds an unlikely ally in the form of Vianne Rocher, his former enemy who once owned the chocolate shop and has now returned.
Set during Ramadan, Harris has taken the bold step of focusing her story on how the two different cultures and religions clash, moving boldly into territory which more cautious writers might avoid.
“I wrote it during the year when a lot of European countries were talking about banning the veil, in that period of political debate and protest and upheaval. About two months after Ramadan they did ban the veil in France, so the story was shaped to some extent by current events.
“Human nature is such that people tend to justify all sorts of things by putting forward arguments, be they religious or political or otherwise, to justify their bad behaviour or to create a ’them and us’ situation.