Lansquenet-sous-Tannes is a sleepy little French village tucked between Toulouse and Bordeaux. It has one main street bordered with “dun-colored half-timbered houses leaning secretively together.” A Catholic church, “aggressively painted white," sits in the middle of the square. Two hundred “souls” at most live here, ordinary people who are a little pale, a little drab, a little wrinkled. It is carnival time, Mardi Gras, just before Lent. A parade is passing through town; there are carts decorated with balloons and streamers and papier-mâché scenes from fairy tales. A small band is playing a lively march. Costumed children are running to and fro collecting the candies thrown at them from the parade floats. Everyone is in high spirits except for a black figure bringing up the rear. That black figure is Francis Reynaud, the village priest. In the carnival crowd are two newcomers, the beautiful and mysterious Mademoiselle Vianne Rocher and her six-year-old daughter, Anouk. Vianne and Anouk are looking for a new place to live, and they decide to stay in Lansquenet.
Vianne is a talented chocolatier who soon converts an abandoned bakery into a delightful “choclaterie artisanale” called La Céleste Praline. The intriguing Vianne possesses an uncanny knack for figuring out everyone’s favorite kind of chocolate. Despite the townspeople’s protests that they have given up chocolate for Lent, Vianne tempts them with just the right piece—“It’s your favorite kind,” she persuades them. Soon they cannot resist. Not everyone is happy about this. Almost immediately, the village priest, Père Reynaud, pays Vianne a visit. It is Sunday and he has missed Madame Rocher and her child in church. Vianne corrects him: she is “Mademoiselle” Rocher. Reynaud tries to hide his shock. Perhaps Vianne was too busy with La Céleste Praline to attend church just this one time? No, Vianne explains to monsieur le curé. She and Anouk would not have been in church anyway: “We don’t attend, you know.” Reynaud cannot hide his shock this time, but Vianne remains direct and firm. She wants the priest to understand that she has no intention of becoming one of his parishioners.
Reynaud and Vianne wage a subtle war against each other. They each have their allies, and Vianne begins with the town’s marginalized characters. Her first customer is Guillaume Duplessis, a lonely man whose only friend is his...
(The entire section is 2007 words.)
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