I’ve enjoyed many of Joanne Harris’s previous novels, the best-known of which is probably Chocolat. My personal favourite is Gentlemen and Players, which I read earlier this summer and found absolutely engrossing, and quite a departure from her earlier work.
The Lollipop Shoes is like Chocolat meets Gentlemen and Players. The main character of Chocolate, Vianne Rocher (now travelling under the name Yanne Charbonneau) takes the lead again in this novel. Four years have passed since the events of Chocolat, but the conflict at the centre of Vianne’s life is still there: can she continue working magic as a witch in a society (a very narrow version of French Catholicism whose main creed seems to be sucking all the fun out of everything, and I’ve mentioned in other reviews how tired I get of Harris caricaturing all Christianity under this one cloak, but anyway) that considers her magic evil?
Only now Vianne has moved to Paris, a bigger city where she can be more anonymous, and has sworn off working magic. Her goal is to be as ordinary as possible to provide a stable life for her two daughters, the probably-developmentally-delayed but also quite-powerful-little-witch Rosette, and the almost-teenage Anouk, who is growing apart from her mother. Disturbing things from Vianne’s past that don’t fit the present life she’s constructed for herself — her old name, her old tarot cards, her old chocolate-making supplies, and of course her old lover, the sexy river gypsy Roux — are consigned to memories in a box under her bed. (Well. Roux is not literally in a box under her bed. That would be a different kind of book altogether. But you get my drift).
But an outside force enters this domestic drama, and here’s where the book excited me by becoming all twisty and suspenseful just like G&P. The newcomer is Zozie — a witch like Vianne, travelling under an assumed name like Vianne, but unlike Vianne an accomplished con artist who is only out to cause trouble. Zozie blows into Vianne’s “ordinary” life like a breeze off the river, bringing change and eventually chaos.
Like Gentlemen and Players, point of view switched in this novel between different characters as Zozie’s would-be victims very slowly begin to figure out her game. In fact Zozie is very like the second narrator of G&P — a con artist who assumes and sheds identities as necessary to get what she wants and wreak revenge on those who she believes have hurt her. PLUS she has magical powers, so beat that. I found this to be an exciting pageturner, although the ending was not as satisfactory, surprising or suspenseful as the ending of G&P. When G&P was over, every plot piece fit together like a flawless jigsaw, whereas at the end of Lollipop Shoes there were still unresolved plot threads hanging out here and there, things that hadn’t been neatly explained or fit into the pattern. I was hoping for a big surprise revelation that would change the way I saw everything, as at the end of G&P, but … it didn’t come. Still, a very good read, managing to be both heartwarming and suspenseful.