Sunday, April 24, 2011

Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris

Joanne Harris is the same author who wrote Chocolat. I never read that. I never saw the movie. I didn't buy this book because I recognized her other one. I bought it because I liked the font of the title, and the picture on the cover.

Apparently, I'm a simple human.
Me likey. Me buy.

But there is something to be said for attractive advertising of a novel. While sometimes deceiving, in this case, I think it perfectly reflected the tone of the novel. On one hand, it smells like old world and on the other, it confuses: how can there be 5 quarters? Much like the novel, set both in the 1940's and present day, and curious in the way it continually pulls you in, the cover is shows a lovely orange peel in the shape of an S(no apparent relation to the text). The back reads: "When Framboise Simon returns to a small village on the banks of the Loire, the locals do not recognize her as the daughter of the infamous woman they hold responsible for a tragedy during the German occupation years ago."

And I was sold. I'm not sure I even continued reading the rest of the description. The book just got wedged among the other books in my arms at Fresno's Book Nook on Cedar and Herndon(great used book store; I can always find something new).

I traveled back to Israel and the book went on my shelf with about 50 others. After I finished The Zahir, I was in the mood for the same style of book. I wanted something that had a captivating story and a distinctive writing style. I didn't want to work too hard(so non-fiction was out) as were classics that I had on my shelf so one day I might force myself into reading them so I could at least SAY I'd read A Tale of Two Cities(which I have not).

Books call to me. Some have sat years on my shelf, waiting for their moment, but, alas, my life has not yet been right for that book. And sometimes I've recognized it in the first minute of reading it and had to put the book back. There are a few books with marks of where I stopped reading. But not Five Quarters of the Orange. It needed to wait only a few weeks.

I didn't have to look twice over the shelf to grab this one and I settled into my bed, comforter around my chest and began reading.

"When my mother died she left the farm to my brother, Cassis, the fortune in the wine cellar to my sister, Reine-Claude, and to me, the youngest, her album and a two-liter jar containing a single black Perigord truffle, large as a tennis ball, suspende dins unflower oil, that, when uncorked, still relases the rich dank perfume of the forest floor."

I was instantly enraptured. As you are, I'm sure. Now, don't be sad. You can just run your little butt over to the bookstore and buy it. Or if you request it before anyone else, I'll bring it home just for you.

By chapter 3, I was completely engrossed in the book, setting aside meal preparation and classwork grading. Neither upset me too much as Harris winds a twisted tale unlike I've read in a long time. It's a mystery, with dynamic characters who intrigue and an end that, while I saw at least one twist coming, I was still overall surprised and delighted by. The narrator is a character I don't much identify with, and because of this, I was captivated by her choices, as much as I was by the author's choices with her language and plot development. It's the type of book I'd like to write, if I ever had an idea clever enough to develop it into something like Five Quarters of the Orange.

So without giving away much of the plot, because I hate that, I'll leave you with a quote I found...haunting: "My mistake was thinking children were like trees. Prune them back and they'll grow sweeter. Not true. Not true."

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