Saturday, November 19, 2016

Five Quarters of an Orange, by Joanne Harris

I would never have found this book if not for book club, and I really rather liked it. Let's dig into the nuances of that assessment, shall we?

Joanne Harris hit the jackpot with her book Chocolat, a bit of magical realism with a decidedly hedonistic bent. Made into a movie starring the luminous Juliette Binoche and a delicious Johnny Depp, it was a delightful fairy tale that was completely grounded in the petty feuds and the judgmental religiosity of a small French town. The time period is left charmingly vague--it looked vaguely mid-20th century, but could have been set in almost any decade.

Chocolat dealt with women's roles in a male dominated village, issues of racism, domestic violence, and moral rigidity enforced by religious intolerance, but a happy ending was engineered by the protagonist's magical chocolate shop. As I said--a fairy tale grounded in reality.

Five Quarters of an Orange revisits that format, although less successfully over all. We are back in a rural French village, but in two specific time periods--the Occupation by the Germans in WWII, and the present day. The narrator is Framboise Dartigan, who was a nine year old during the events of the war, and who returned as a widow to reclaim her childhood home, while hiding her identity from the villagers who are largely the same people as when she was a child.

There are hints of a terrible secret from the past, and family conflict in the present day that threatens to unmask her true identity. There is a fairy tale element--the existence of a giant pike that lurks in the depths of the Loire. Local legend says that whoever catches Old Mother will be granted one wish. Framboise is determined to catch that fish.

The Dartigan family are named after fruits, and there is a lot of space devoted to Framboise's mother's recipes and Framboise's cooking--food is again a major element of the book.

Parts of this work very well, parts are frustratingly underwritten.

Once untangled from the bouncing around in time, the plot is rather straightforward. Framboise and her brother and sister fall under the sway of a charismatic young German officer named Tomas Leibniz. They pass all the village gossip to him, in return for luxuries that he can procure for them. Framboise doesn't care for the movie magazines and cigarettes--she imagines that she is bonding with Tomas on a more authentic basis. They are both fishers, after all.

Here is where I have to call for a time-out, because this seems like a major miscalculation. Framboise is nine years old. NINE YEARS OLD. It is 1942, in rural France. This is NOT a case where children are immersed in hyper-sexuality and I just don't accept that a nine year old has sexual feelings for an adult male.

I WOULD accept that she was love-starved, was looking for a father figure, or validation, or something. I am not okay with her being presented as romantically interested in a Nazi.

Back to the plot--there is a brief moment of concern that maybe the gossip they are feeding to Tomas is getting people sent to concentration camps, but that tension lasts about a half a page before being dissipated. Tomas is using the dirt the kids give him to blackmail the residents and he is skimming from the requisitions to pad his own accounts.

Things start to fall apart--Framboise's older sister is (almost-but-not-quite) raped by the Germans, an old man ends up dead. The nascent village Resistance is revealed. Mother Dartigan's migraines require morphine that she gets from Tomas--possibly as a payment for her silence about the assault. Tomas makes plans to leave the village, Framboise is determined he should stay (or run away with her) so she catches the Old Mother pike, wishes that Tomas would stay forever, and the wish backfires. Tomas drowns while helping Framboise pull in her trap--the one that Old Mother is actually caught in. So technically she gets her wish--Tomas does not leave.

The three kids panic about the body being linked to them, so they shot Tomas in the head so it looks like an execution. The Germans believe this story, round up the Resistance members and shoot them all in the village square. The locals blame Mother Dartigan, accuse her of being Tomas's mistress, and storm the farm and torch it. The family escapes and flees.

This is the climax of the book, which is as it should be dramatically, which means that all the contemporary family drama is incredibly mundane in comparison. Framboise's older brother sold the family farm to her and then died, leaving a son and daughter-in-law who offer a kind of existential threat to her anonymity. This second generation wants the recipes, wants a career, wants to publish the "true story" of what happened in 1942, none of which Framboise wants. At best, this is a tool for creating tension and mystery--what happened that was so terrible that Framboise is hiding?

Unfortunately, the larger question is: Why does Framboise even want to live in this stupid small village? Once she is there, she is misanthropic in the extreme, operating a tiny restaurant where she refuses to talk to the patrons even. The mechanics of the story are too visible. It's like Harris needed her narrator to be in the village in order to tell the story, but never created a character-based reason for that decision.

This is an ongoing problem with the book--it just needs to bake longer or something? The elements are good, the story is worth telling, the structure is sound, but the whole does not even equal the sum of the parts.

Part of the problem is that the characters are underdeveloped, so it is hard to care--or even remember them. The various townspeople are generically "rural" and "petty" with no real reason to care about them one way or another. Ten people are shot by firing squad due to the blundering of Framboise and her siblings, but they never really came to life so it is hard to care.

I have already expressed my problems with Tomas and Framboise's passion for him. Her siblings are not served by the time jump. Cassis is casually cruel but also dangerously exciting when Framboise is nine, but in the contemporary sections, he is just feeble. None of the characteristics of his youth survive the transition, and there is no explanation of why. Reinette is even more poorly served--she exists to be young and sexy, to be interested in movie glamour magazines, and then to be assaulted. Once that plot obligation is fulfilled, she disappears. In the contemporary sections, she is in a nursing home, apparently completely senile.

There are hints that Harris had more in mind for these characters. She details conflict among the there of them due to the inequality of their mother's bequests. Reinette inherited a cellar of wine that is worth a great deal of money, that Framboise won't touch, that might be the object of Cassis's grasping son. . .a plot element that goes nowhere.

It's frustrating, because this book should be better than it is. It has all the ingredients, but the execution is poor--which is a fitting metaphor for a book that spends a lot of time talking about food.

I wish I liked this better than I do.



Caught Between Banks & Sharks? See why We're Different. Apply Now! 24/7 Contact · Secure Online Application · Fixed Monthly Payments Personalized Loan Rates from 3% P.A + High Approval Rates. Simple Application · Simple Process · No Hidden Fees Exclusive Rates Services: Car Loans, Personal Loans, Short-Term Loans, Holiday Loans, Family Loans contact us now via email :

max william said...

Do you need Finance?
Are you looking for Finance?
Are you looking for a money to enlarge your business?
We help individuals and companies to obtain loan for business
expanding and to setup a new business ranging any amount. Get a loan at affordable interest rate of 3%, Do you need this cash/loan for business and to clear your bills? Then send us an email now for more information contact us now via

Dr olivia Alexander said...

We Offer Loan At A Very Low Rate Of 3%. If Interested, Kindly Contact Us via email now (

Credit Loan Solution said...

Are you tired of seeking loans and Mortgages,have you been turned down constantly By your banks and other financial institutions,We offer any form of loan to individuals and corporate bodies at low interest rate.If you are interested in taking a loan,feel free to contact us today,we promise to offer you the best services ever.Just give us a try,because a trial will convince you.What are your Financial needs?Do you need a business loan?Do you need a personal loan?Do you want to buy a car?Do you want to refinance?Do you need a mortgage loan?Do you need a huge capital to start off your business proposal or expansion? Have you lost hope and you think there is no way out, and your financial burdens still persists? Contact us (

Your Name:...............
Your Country:...............
Your Occupation:...............
Loan Amount Needed:...............
Loan Duration...............
Monthly Income:...............
Your Telephone Number:.....................
Business Plan/Use Of Your Loan:...............
Contact Us At :
Phone number :+44-75967-81743 (WhatsApp Only)


My name is.Mrs CYNTHIA CORVIN. I live in Ukraine i am a happy woman today? i need to use this time to tell all people how i got my loan from this honest and God fearing man loan lender that help me with a loan of $184,000 please contact him. if you also need a loan without any problem he name is Dr Purva Pius email {} tell him that is Mrs CYNTHIA CORVIN that refer you to he contact Email {}

tracy soul said...

I dont really know much about hacking after so many tries i met Cyberhacking lord who later help me find out my husband has been cheating on me and stealing from my bank account, he had this scheme going for 6 months. He gave me access to his mail,social media account,phone(could see deleted messages) and even track his location, still going to sue to him. Having doubts in your relationship? contact him (

Housing Finance said...


Are you in need of Urgent Loan Here all problem regarding Loan is solve between a short period of time with a low interest rate of 2% and

duration more than 20 years what are you waiting for apply now and solve your problem or start a business with Loan paying of various

bills I think you have come to the right place just email us.
Contact us on whatspp +447513195409
Mr Osman Ibrahim

kennedy said...

Do you need an urgent loan? Do you need a quick long or short term
loan with a relatively low interest rate as low as 3%? We offer
business loan, personal loan, home loan, auto loan, student loan, debt
consolidation loan e.t.c. no matter your credit score. We are
guaranteed in giving out financial services to our numerous clients
all over the world. With our flexible lending packages, loans can be
processed and transferred to the borrower within the shortest time
possible, contact our specialist for advice and finance planning. If
you need a quick loan contact our company email

Full Details Required:
Full Name:
Current Home Address:
Permanent Home Address:
Loan Amount Required:
Currency Needed:
Loan Duration (Specify In Years):
Purpose of the Loan:
Valid Phone Number:
The Name Of The Website You Find Our Advert:

A trail will convince you.
Thank you.
Best Regards
Mr. John Kennedy
Working hours
Monday: 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
Tuesday: 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
Wednesday: 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
Thursday: 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
Friday: 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
Saturday: 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
Sunday: 12:00 pm - 3:00 pm


How I Got My Loan From A Genuine And Reliable Loan Company

My name is Mrs.Anna Daniel. I live in Ukraine and i am a happy woman today? and i told my self that any lender that rescue my family from our poor situation, i will refer any person that is looking for loan to him, he gave me happiness to me and my family, i was in need of a loan of $220,000,00 and was scammed by those fraudulent lenders and a friend introduce me to Mr.James Eric, and he lend me the loan without any stress,you can contact him at (


Full Name:................
Loan Amount Needed:.
Purpose of loan:.......
Loan Duration:..
Marital status:....
Home Address:..
Mobile / Cell:....
Monthly Income:....
Website You Heard About Us?......
Email Him at: (


Do you need finance to start up your own business or expand your business, Do you need funds to pay off your debt? We give out loan to interested individuals and company's who are seeking loan with good faith. Are you seriously in need of an urgent loan contact us.Email: (

Osman Ibrahim said...

Do you need a financial help? Are you in any financial crisis or do you need funds to start up your own business? Do you need funds to settle your debt or pay off your bills or start a good business? Do you have a low credit score and you are finding it hard to obtain capital services from local banks and other financial institutes? Here is your chance to obtain a financial services from our company. We offer the following finance to individuals-
*Commercial finance
*Personal finance
*Business finance
*Construction finance
*Business finance And many More:
and many more at 2% interest rate;
Contact Us Via

Dr Aliu Shadira said...

Do you need finance to start up your own business or expand your business, Do you need funds to pay off your debt? We give out loan to interested individuals and company's who are seeking loan with good faith. Are you seriously in need of an urgent loan contact us.

First Name:
Last Name:
Date Of Birth:
Phone No:
Zip Code:
Monthly Income:
Loan Amount:
Loan Duration:
Purpose of the loan: