Literary Criticism and Significance

Joanne Harris provides a great deal of insight into her writing on her blog and Web site, where she fully discusses her themes, metaphors, symbolism, and inspiration for her characters. Part French and English, Harris was raised in a sweet shop similar to the one described in Chocolat. Along with magic, witchcraft, religion and feminism, food is a recurring element in her fiction. Harris has been labeled a “cross-genre” writer because her fiction contains components of varied genres, including fantasy, gothic, horror, and magical realism. Harris says she dislikes such labels, however, and does not see “why anyone has to choose between genres.” Her novels, in fact, are varied. Some are feminist, with strong female heroines and weak males (Chocolat, Holy Fools). Three of her novels, which she calls her “food trilogy novels,” use food as a metaphor for change (Chocolat, Blackberry Wine,and Five Quarters of the Orange). These novels also are examples of magical realism (a genre that blends magical elements into a realistic atmosphere) with enchanted chocolates, mysterious wine, and supernatural oranges whose scent causes migraines. Two of her novels are gothic (Evil Seed isa vampire noveland Sleep, Pale Sister isa Victorian gothic tale). Her most recent novel, Blueeyedboy,is a twenty-first-century psychological thriller whose setting is the unreliable and sometimes sinister world of the Internet.

Chocolat has had mixed reviews since its publication in 1999. Some critics claim that the novel’s themes are light weight and idealistic. Sharon Schulz-Elsing notes that the novel is “not quite as profound as it wants to be.” Several critics have commented that although the setting is modern, the plot is dated and unbelievable because no modern-day French town would slavishly follow the dictates of a...

(The entire section is 643 words.)