Five Quarters of the Orange

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Five Quarters of the Orange 

by Joanne Harris

I've always been a little obsessed with everything French. 

When I was twelve years old, I discovered the film Chocolat starring Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche and I was in complete and utter love. It's perhaps not the kind of film you would typically associate with a twelve year old's infatuation, my parents certainly didn't understand it but needless to say I would watch this film (and still do) over and over again, allowing my eyes to take in every single detail of this simple, quaint yet entirely captivating masterpiece. 

 It was the perfect combination of something I couldn't quite explain. 

 It was the picturesque insight into rural France, the liberating sounds of gypsy jazz music and the mouth watering depictions of French cuisine. I loved and adored every tiny detail of each character; their mannerisms, their culture, their secrets, how they dressed, spoke, lived. Everything was so beautifully, well, french.  

It wasn't long until I managed to get my hands on what is now a very worn and over-used copy of Chocolat, the literature behind the masterpiece that somehow managed to surpass my exceptionally high expectations and it's been a haven to delight the senses ever since.

However, only a couple of days ago, while avoiding the downpour of torrential rain, I covered myself in a little old bookshop where I lay my hands on a copy of Five Quarter's of the Orange, another book in Joanne Harris' collection.  This book is brimming with the beautiful and captivating descriptions of rural French life that I so adored in Chocolat. 

As well as that cookery book feel that gives such exquisite detail to the point I felt I could smell and taste every one of Mémé Dartigan's creations from her pâte brisée, crème pâtissiere, paella antillaise and the infamous buckwheat pancakes. Harris has a way of giving French life that homely, magical and organic feel that is so endearing. She captures the recipes, culture and style in such a perfect way that makes it impossible to put down. 

But this book did so much more for me than that. 

It's the details in the characters for me, as Harris creates a web of complex human relationships with a dark past of hidden secrets. At the centre of the narration is Framboise Dartigan, who returns in her old age to Les Laveuses, a small village just up the Loire from Angers. 

Framboise hopes to remain unrecognised as the daughter of a woman held in the highest contempt by the villagers, so that the deep dark tragedies of her childhood should never resurface. Framboise opens up a crêperie where she cooks the recipes inherited from her mother and reads the old scrapbook her mother left her, with the details behind that tragedy. 

Slowly and cleverly, a nine-year old Framboise tells us the story of her childhood, growing up with her older brother Cassis and her beautiful sister Reinette. Her father was killed by the Germans at war and her troubled, paranoid mother is left to raise them. However, France is now under German occupation as a divide occurs in the village between locals and intruders. 

 Like Vianne Rocher in Chocolat, Harris creates a strong female protagonist with all that French spunk and fight that you can only dream of. Framboise is by no means weak willed or afraid of danger. She holds none of the beauty of her sister, to which she doesn't care as Boise loves the adventure and already demonstrates some of the characteristics of her cold hearted mother.

I can't deny that I adore and draw some parallels with Framboise, a child who cared more about diving into the dangerous river than curling her hair like movie stars. She's clever and cunning and even discovers that she can bring on her mothers migraines with the scent of orange peel, which she secretly hides around the house when she needs to buy herself some time. A wicked deed but having been brought up by Mirabelle Dartigan I might have been tempted to do the same. 

Yet everything changes when Tomas Leibniz arrives in Les Laveuses, a charming German soldier with all the power and infectious personality to captivate Framboise, Cassis and Reinette in a dangerous plot that leads to fatal tragedy. 

Now it was this relationship that captured me most, as Framboises' strong heart falls at the feet of this manipulative soldier. Harris is exceptional when it comes to the twisted vagaries of love and even I will admit: I fell in love with Tomas Leibniz

He epitomises so much when it comes to young infatuation, the older boy with all the power, knowledge and charm that consumes and captures young hearts and even he seems to be endeared by Framboise's uniquely wild spirit. They say young love is the worst because we're naive and corruptable, and Framboise's infatuation has all the pain and delights of first love.  

“This is something different again. A feeling of peace. The feeling you get when a recipe turns out perfectly right, a perfectly risen souffle, a flawless sauce hollandaise. It's a feeling which tells me that any woman can be beautiful in the eyes of a man who loves her.” 

The past and present beautifully intertwine as we see the old Framboise afraid of discovery paralleled to the wild, and unrelenting spirit of a nine-year old Framboise, as the true story unravels before us. The complexities of love are explored between all the characters; their unique relationships and dark secrets. This is a thrilling and captivating tale, all the while with the backdrop of French culture  amongst the smell of ripened berries and tantalising orange peel. 

It's impossible for me to go into much more detail without giving this plot away, but I implore you to read this novel and enjoy everything it does to your senses. 

Bon appétit!

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