Harris, Joanne 1964–
Harris, Joanne 1964–
(Joanne Michele Sylvie Harris)
PERSONAL: Full name, Joanne Michele Sylvie Harris; born March 7, 1964, in Barnsley, England; father a language teacher; mother also a language teacher; married Kevin Harris, 1989; children: Anouchka. Education: Catharine's College, Cambridge, B.A., 1984, M.A., 1987; University of Sheffield, postgraduate certificate of education, 1985.
ADDRESSES: Home—Huddersfield, England. Agent—Howard Morhaim, Howard Morhaim Literary Agency, 80 8th Ave., Ste. 1107, New York, NY 10011; Brie Burkeman, 14 Neville Ct., Abbey Rd., London NW8 9DV, England.
CAREER: Worked briefly as an accountant, c. 1985; teacher of French and German at a secondary school in Dewsbury, England, 1986–88; Leeds Grammar School, Leeds, England, teacher of modern languages, 1988–99; writer, 1999–.
AWARDS, HONORS: Whitbread Prize nomination, novel category, Booksellers Association of Great Britain and Ireland, 2000.
The Evil Seed, Warner (London, England), 1992.
Sleep, Pale Sister, Arrow (London, England), 1994.
Chocolat, Viking (New York, NY), 1999.
Blackberry Wine, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2000.
Five Quarters of the Orange, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2001.
Coastliners, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2002.
Holy Fools, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2004.
Gentlemen and Players, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2006.
(With Fran Ward) My French Kitchen: A Book of 120 Treasured Recipes, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2003.
Jigs and Reels: Stories, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2004.
(With Fran Warde) The French Market: More Recipes from a French Kitchen, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to Harpers and Queen and Woman's Weekly.
ADAPTATIONS: The novel Chocolat was adapted by Robert Nelson Jacobs as a film of the same title, directed by Lasse Hallstrom, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, released by Miramax Films in 2000. The novels Chocolat and Coastliners were adapted as audio books.
SIDELIGHTS: The vampire novel The Evil Seed juxtaposes two narratives, one from 1948 and the other from the current day. In the 1948 narrative, Daniel Holmes, a scholar of pre-Raphaelite art at Cambridge, recounts his rescue of a beautiful young red-haired woman named Rosemary with whom he is instantly smitten, as is his best friend Robert. In the current-day narrative, Alice Farrell, a young artist, is asked by her ex-lover Joe to take in his new girlfriend, a beautiful red-head named Ginny. "As the stories unfold, the links between them become more and more apparent," reported Pauline Morgan in Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers. "Rosemary is dead. But Ginny is Rosemary…. When Alice discovers Daniel's diary … she begins to piece together the horror that hides behind Ginny's lies."
Sleep, Pale Sister is set in 1881 and tells the story of Henry Chester, an artist obsessed with two things, his acceptance into the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and his wife Effie, who has served as his model since she was a child. Chester embodies the hypocrisy of Victorian sexual mores, said Morgan: "On the one hand his wife must be pure, innocent, and submissive, having no sexual desires whatsoever, yet he can go weekly to a brothel and demand virtual children as his bed-partners." Chester's obsession with his wife's purity comes to be challenged from many quarters; by Moses Harper, who wants to have an affair with Effie, and more sinisterly by Fanny Miller, a brothel owner who holds Chester accountable for the death of her daughter Marta ten years before. Morgan wrote: "You can choose as to whether Marta's ghost has been hanging around waiting to possess a suitable host or if Fanny uses narcotics and mesmerism to shape Effie's behavior. The possibilities are deftly handled, the characters realistic, and the writing atmospheric."
In the novel Chocolat, Joanne Harris relates what happens when Vianne Rocher and her six-year-old daughter arrive in a small French town, Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, on the day of the Mardi Gras carnival, and set up shop. "So isolated is the place, it still rigorously maintains Lenten abstinences," reported Booklist contributor Mark Knoblauch. When Vianne opens a chocolate shop, the local priest sees her as the Devil's handmaiden, tempting his parishioners from the paths of righteousness. Father Reynaud is driven to the limits of his endurance when Vianne decides to arrange a festival of chocolate for Easter Sunday.
Vianne is no ordinary chocolatier; her roots as a sorceress go back to her mother, who, it is hinted, was a witch herself. Vianne is drawn to the town, and she creates magic in a saucepan for the local villagers. Her creations—Eastern journey, white rum truffle, Nipples of Venus—drive the villagers to distraction from their Lenten sacrifices and small-town ways of thinking. Although it is implied that Vianne has magic powers, the element of the supernatural is very subdued in the novel.
The novel interposes chapters from Vianne's viewpoint with chapters from Father Reynaud's, enabling the reader to see Vianne's desire to open the villagers hearts through pleasure, and Reynaud's growing obsession with what he considers the evil influence of the chocolatier. "Harris gives each of these characters an interior life," commented New York Times Book Review contributor Nancy Willard, "and shows both sides of the story—although Reynaud's does not make him any less of a villain."
On the whole, reviewers responded positively to the novel. Although the Kirkus Reviews contributor mentioned that "premise, prose, and pace all march along capably … they fail nevertheless to raise the whole above the debilities of heavy symbolism and excruciatingly precious plot," Knoblauch was impressed with Harris's evocation of life in a small French town. Michael Jacobs writing in USA Today called the novel "delicious enough to satisfy any sweet tooth and spare you the calories of dessert."
Nancy Willard, writing for the New York Times, gave the book a lengthy, positive review: "Though we all know that witches live in gingerbread houses, who among us could resist the spell cast by the gingerbread house that appears in the window of Vianne's shop, 'with the detail piped on in silver and gold icing, roof tiles of Florentines studded with crystallized fruits, strange vines of icing and chocolate growing up the walls, marzipan birds singing in chocolate trees'?" Willard concluded that "Harris's description of the chocolate festival also describes the novel: 'It is an amazement of riches…. Try me. Test me. Taste me.' Few readers will be able to resist."
In the novels that follow Chocolat, Harris uses similar food-related analogies and the ingredients of magic and mystery to whip up concoctions of suspense and intrigue, but her stories gradually move away from the culinary focus toward an increasing preoccupation with some darker elements of the human feast, and with the interplay of past and present, history and memory, magic and reality. In Blackberry Wine, the bouquet of an aged bottle of wine and the memory of a childhood mentor called Jackapple Joe inspire a young man to buy a dilapidated French vineyard, where he encounters mysterious neighbors, attempts to revive a flagging career as an author, and rediscovers the magic of his youth. In Five Quarters of the Orange, an elderly woman returns to the French village of her uneasy childhood, disguised by a pseudonym and armed with the journal she inherited from her mysterious and "disturbed" mother—an album containing a recipe collection full of encoded secrets spiced with magic. Coastliners also involves a reunion with the past, minus an obvious culinary metaphor, when a woman returns to the island home of her youth and attempts to restore her deteriorating village to prosperity in the face of coastal erosion, the encroachment of real estate development, and, of course, the mysteries of the past. Holy Fools seems to mark a departure, for it is set in a French convent in the year 1610, but, like Harris's other writings, the story involves people that are not who they seem to be, mysterious connections between past and present, secret and menacing agendas, and, as some reviewers have noted throughout Harris's work, a subterranean morality tale. The institutional setting of Gentlemen and Players is a remote British boys' school, but the tale is similar: a former student returns to the school under a false name with a secret objective: to exact revenge for past wrongs; in this case, the mystery is laced with mortal danger.
Harris's novels, as well as her short story collection Jigs and Reels: Stories, have evoked contrasting responses from her critics. For example, a Kirkus Reviews contributor described Coastliners as "underwhelming" and stereotypical, while Book reviewer Beth Kephart described the novel as Harris's "best work yet;" Gentlemen and Players was characterized by Spectator contributor Andreas Campomar as "a brave, if ill-conceived, attempt at a difficult genre: the school novel as murder-mystery" with "a denouement [that] is far too fanciful to be believed," but to Library Journal critic Susan Clifford Braun, the novel is "intelligent, compelling, technically well crafter, and entertaining." In similar fashion, Jigs and Reels was alternately praised and castigated, but a Publishers Weekly reviewer offered an assessment of the story collection that seemed to echo several of Harris's other critics by suggesting: "this may dismay some old fans, but win her new ones."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998, pp. 249-250.
Bloomsbury Review, September, 1999, review of Chocolat, p. 12.
Book, May, 2001, Mimi O'Connor, review of Five Quarters of the Orange, p. 71; September-October, 2002, Beth Kephart, review of Coastliners, p. 76.
Booklist, February 15, 1999, Mark Knoblauch, review of Chocolat, p. 1039; September 15, 2000, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Blackberry Wine, p. 216; March 1, 2001, GraceAnne A. De-Candido, review of Five Quarters of the Orange, p. 1188; June 1, 2001, Neal Wyatt, review of Chocolat, p. 1841; August, 2002, Joanne Wilkinson review of Coastliners, p. 1885; November 15, 2003, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Holy Fools, p. 548; July, 2004, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Jigs and Reels: Stories, p. 1798; September 1, 2005, Jennifer Baker, review of Sleep, Pale Sister, p. 63.
BookPage, May, 2001, review of Five Quarters of the Orange, p. 28.
Books, spring, 2000, review of Chocolat and Blackberry Wine, p. 13.
Bookseller, July 29, 2005, review of The French Market: More Recipes from a French Kitchen, p. 40.
Chatelaine, April, 2001, Bonnie Schiedel, "A Magical Brew," p. 17.
Christian Science Monitor, January 21, 1999, Ron Charles, review of Chocolat, p. 15; September 5, 2002, review of Coastliners, p. 19.
Entertainment Weekly, February 12, 1999, review of Chocolat, p. 77; January 14, 2000, review of Chocolat, p. 69; February 13, 2004, Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, review of Holy Fools, p. 75.
Europe, May, 2002, review of Five Quarters of the Orange, p. 26.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), April 24, 1999, review of Chocolat, p. E8; June 3, 2000, review of Chocolat, p. D20; January 6, 2001, review of Chocolat, p. D12; June 9, 2001, review of Five Quarters of the Orange; October 19, 2002, review of Coastliners. May 14, 2005, review by H.J. Kirchhoff, p. D14.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 1998, review of Chocolat, p. 1751; June 1, 2000, review of Blackberry Wine, p. 738; March 15, 2001, review of Five Quarters of the Orange, p. 977; July 15, 2002, review of Coastliners, p. 979; December 1, 2003, review of Holy Fools, p. 1372; August 1, 2004, review of Jigs and Reels, p. 704; October 15, 2005, review of Gentlemen and Players, p. 1101.
Kliatt, July, 2001, review of Chocolat, p. 3.
Library Journal, September 15, 1999, Melissa J. Barnard, review of Chocolat, p. 140; April 1, 2001, Susan Clifford Braun, review of Five Quarters of the Orange, p. 132; September 1, 2002, Tamara Butler, review of Coastliners, p. 213; December, 2003, Susan Clifford Braun, review of Holy Fools, p. 166; August, 2004, Susan Clifford Braun, review of Jigs and Reels, p. 71; December 1, 2004, Nancy Pearl, "On the Literary Road with the Gypsies," p. 186; September 15, 2005, Susan Clifford Braun, review of Sleep, Pale Sister, p. 55; December 1, 2005, Susan Clifford Braun, review of Gentlemen and Players, p. 112.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October, 1999, Charles De Lint, review of Chocolat, p. 32; October, 2000, Charles De Lint, review of Blackberry Wine, p. 37.
New Statesman, May 12, 2003, Amanda Craig, review of Holy Fools, p. 54.
New Yorker, April 5, 1999, review of Chocolat, p. 87.
New York Times Book Review, March 7, 1999, Nancy Willard, review of Chocolat, p. 14; June 6, 1999, review of Chocolat, p. 34; December 5, 1999, review of Chocolat, p. 70; January 16, 2000, Scott Veale, review of Chocolat, p. 32; February 25, 2001, Betsy Groban, review of Blackberry Wine, p. 18; July 1, 2001, Dana Kennedy, review of Five Quarters of the Orange, p. 16; April 4, 2004, Andrew Santella, review of Holy Fools, p. 20.
Observer (London, England), April 11, 1999, review of Chocolat, p. 13; April 1, 2001, review of Five Quarters of the Orange, p. 15; December 22, 2002, review of Coastliners, p. 17; June 22, 2003, review of Holy Fools, p. 15.
Publishers Weekly, November 30, 1998, review of p. 48; June 12, 2000, review of Blackberry Wine, p. 53; April 30, 2001, review of Five Quarters of the Orange, p. 53; September 2, 2002, review of Coastliners, p. 56; November 17, 2003, review of Holy Fools, p. 38; September 20, 2004, review of Jigs and Reels, p. 48; October 31, 2005, review of Gentlemen and Players, p. 31; November 21, 2005, Carol Schneck, review of Gentlemen and Players, p. 10.
School Library Journal, February, 2002, Carol Clark, review of Five Quarters of the Orange, p. 154.
Spectator, March 20, 1999, Teresa Waugh, review of Chocolat, p. 68; December 3, 2005, Andreas Campomar, review of Gentlemen and Players, p. 57.
Times Educational Supplement, October 7, 2005, Geraldine Brennan, review of Gentlemen and Players, p. 17.
Times Literary Supplement, March 19, 1999, review of Chocolat, p. 23; April 13, 2001, Jennifer Potter, review of Five Quarters of the Orange, p. 23; March 22, 2002, Fatema Ahmed, review of Coastliners, p. 23.
USA Today, February 4, 1999, Michael Jacobs, review of Chocolat, p. 8D.
Virginia Quarterly Review, summer, 1999, review of Chocolat, p. 96.
Wall Street Journal, February 12, 1999, Kate Flatley, review of Chocolat, p. W7.
Washington Post Book World, January 24, 1999, review of Chocolat, p. 13; July 22, 2001, Nancy McKeon, review of Five Quarters of the Orange, p. 6.
Woman's Journal, April, 2000, review of Blackberry Wine, p. 20.