Five Quarters of the Orange , By Joanne Harris
(Reviewed by Jane)
Many of you may have read some of Joanne Harris’ work before, or at least saw the movie based on her best-selling novel, “Chocolat”. Really, all these two books have in common is that they’re both set in France and they weave food and recipes into the storyline.
“Five Quarters of the Orange” is set in a small village in France, during World War II, when France was occupied by the Germans. Not a very happy time in history and a very unhappy time for the French, in particular, meaning that this isn’t a light-hearted book. It’s told from the perspective of 9 year-old Framboise, who lives with her mother and older brother and sister, on a family farm. Her father was killed in the war and her mother, who is quite cold and stern, suffers from debilitating migraines. The migraine episodes are at the center of the family mystery that is the storyline of the book. Some sort of scandal or tragedy happened to Framboise’s family and the book is her re-telling of that story, as an old woman.
I often will choose good writing, over the story or the subject matter and when I started this book, I had the feeling that this might be one of those cases. Harris’ writing is not flowery, overblown or, what I can only refer to as ‘romancy’. I can’t stand authors that write ‘down’ to a more adolescent level, or try to manipulate with overly emotional, cheesy settings. But, as I got into the first chapter and into the next, although I still was drawn by her writing, I had to find out what happened to force her family to flee and abandon their farm. …
Framboise goes back to that farm, as an older woman, and she must hide her real identity from the villagers, who remember the scandal caused by her family during the war. The book intertwines her current life, with her hidden identity, and the story of what happened so many years before, to cause her to be too afraid to reveal herself.
She lives in constant fear of being found out and her true identity revealed and yet, she is so drawn to her childhood home, that she endures it and finally reveals what happened to her family.
I liked Harris writing so much so that I went back to the library and grabbed a couple of her other novels.
Of course, it’s on sale right now for 20% off at all three locations of The Tattered Cover Book Store! Just ask for the Dom and Jane Book Club.