Monday, August 23, 2010

Five Quarters of the Orange - Joanne Harris

This review is written by Anne Bennion, a good friend of mine, who is constantly juggling a house full of boys, an often overwhelming church calling, play groups, practices, and lessons and still finds time to send us a review now and then.  Way to go, Anne!  You are amazing!

Summary:  In her bestselling and critically acclaimed novel Chocolat, Joanne Harris told a lush story of the conflicts between pleasure and repression. Now she delivers her most complex and sophisticated work yet, an unforgettable tale of mothers and daughters, of the past and the present, of resisting and succumbing – an extraordinary work of fiction limned with darkness and fierce joy.

When Framboise Simon returns to a small village on the banks of the Loire, the locals do not recognize her as the daughter of the infamous woman they hold responsible for a tragedy during the German occupation years ago. But the past and present are inextricably entwined, particularly in a scrapbook of recipes and memories that Framboise has inherited from her mother. And soon Framboise will realize that the journal also contains the key to the tragedy that indelibly marked that summer of her ninth year… (Summary from back of book - Image from

My Review: The title of this book intrigued me, that and being written by the author of Chocolat. I didn’t know what to expect and was pleasantly surprised. The book takes place in the little village of Les Laveuses, France during the Occupation and then in that same village 40 years later. The story is told in a series of flashbacks intermixed with the current life of the main character. I loved the flashbacks and also was just as captivated by the things happening in the present. Right away, the main character Framboise caught my attention. She was smart, cunning, and had such an interesting relationship with her mother. Framboise’s mother was a war widow. She ran an orchard to support her three children and suffered from debilitating migraines. (I feel her pain – ugh migraines!) She was not a loving mother and showed little affection for her children, however, most of her time and effort was used in supporting and strengthening her children. Throughout the book, I hated and loved Framboise’s mother. I was amazed at the depth of feeling that Framboise had for her mother – and it wasn’t always good feelings. She purposely found a way to trigger her mother’s migraines so that she could go out and do the things she wanted to during the day.

Framboise was nine years old during most of the flashbacks. I sometimes felt that the feelings Framboise was explaining were a bit intense for a nine year old, namely falling in love with a German soldier. She talked about not being able to breathe without him, feeling the hot spot on her hand where she touched his shoulder, etc. All these feelings seemed a bit too mature – and I am mostly basing that off of my own nine-year-old experiences, sure I had crushes but nothing that intense.

I couldn’t put this book down. Once I had been introduced to the characters and their lives, I was hooked. I needed to know if Framboise ever actually caught the giant Pike that was the curse of the Loire River by her home. I needed to know if Paul ever found out what his friends were really doing. I had to find out what the horrible crime was that Framboise’s mother committed. The story is well developed and the author does a great job of keeping the story moving, even with all of the flashbacks. Although there wasn’t as much food references as I would have liked, food served as a major theme throughout the story. I sometimes wished I could taste what Framboise cooked up at her restaurant or smell the food that her mother cooked for dinner. I was pleased the Framboise didn’t change when times got hard – she remained smart, determined, sometimes rigid – all of the things that she despised in her mother, which led to Framboise’s ultimate realization that she had turned into her mother despite all of her effort not to.

I was slightly disappointed when I found out the crime that was the dark secret in this book. I was expecting something far worse. I did wish that I spoke fluent French and German to help translate the random phrases that were thrown into conversations.

My Rating: 3.9 Stars ( I couldn’t quite give it a 4 because of all of the f words.)  For the sensitive reader, there is language throughout the book but the big kicker is the last 50 pages, which has lots of the f word. There is also one scene of child rape.

Sum it up: A great story of love and hate, discovering who you really are, and overcoming secrets.

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