Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris

When I saw the category “Read a food-themed book” on the list for the Semi-Charmed Winter Book Challenge, my thoughts immediately turned to Joanne Harris. I am convinced that nobody can describe food the way Joanne Harris does! It must be her French ancestry. Not all of her books involve food (she also does Norse mythology, among other things), but luckily I still had a food-themed one on my list that I hadn’t read.This was the first book I read for this year’s winter challenge and the category is worth 20 points.

The plot: This is a book of two stories. The first is about a secretive widow, Framboise Dartigen (Françoise Simon) who returns to the village of her childhood from which her family was expelled during the Second World War. Framboise opens a small restaurant, cooking the recipes left to her by her mother, whilst concealing her identity, lest she be recognized as the daughter of the woman who once brought shame and tragedy upon the village. When her nephew finds out the recipes, he attempts to exploit her success, threatening to expose the past she’s so determined to keep hidden in the process. The second storyline is the tale of the tragic events of the past, when Framboise and her siblings were just children and befriended a young, German officer never guessing the ripple effect that this friendship would have…

My review: I was a latecomer to Joanne Harris’s books, only reading Chocolat years after everyone else. I enjoyed that one, liked the characters (especially Pantoufle the rabbit) and the descriptions of chocolate made my mouth water, but I didn’t think I would read it again. It was only after I read the sequel, The Lollipop Shoes, that I fell in love with her writing and promptly read Blackberry Wine and Coastliners in quick succession. With Three Quarters of the Orange, the best part again was the descriptions of food (I wouldn’t recommend reading this while hungry!). Some reviewers on GoodReads have criticised the fact that Framboise’s mother was apparently able to produce such good food during wartime, but I just put it down to good cooks being able to make delicious food out of basically anything. The story itself starts off slow, dropping hints here and there but not really getting to the heart of the matter for a while. In fact, the final piece of the puzzle isn’t revealed until the very end. With some books that would annoy me, but in this case I felt like it just added to the atmosphere. The book is well written and held my interest all the way through, despite the slow start to the story. However, it wasn’t one that had me so enthralled that I stayed up late reading it and I didn’t particularly like most of the characters, so I’m giving it 4 stars.