Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris

I am a huge fan of Joanne Harris and have thoroughly enjoyed all of her books. Five Quarters of the Orange is probably one of my favorites. Harris has a unique writing style for all of her books and in this one, she writes the book like the main character, Framboise is just sitting around telling a story to a friend over coffee. Reading the story, I felt comfortable as “Framboise’s friend” and enjoyed her tale of adolescence in Nazi occupied France. In the beginning of the story, she casually tells us “I know, I know. You want me to get to the point… It has taken me fifty-five years to begin. At least let me do it in my own way.”

Harris’ use of details and descriptions helped to paint a vivid picture in my mind of Framboise’s childhood. I liked the way Harris described her older sister Reine-Claude in comparison to Framboise, “At twelve, my sister has already ripened. Soft and sweet as dark honey, with amber eyes and autumn hair… next to her I looked like a frog, my mother told me, an ugly skinny little frog with my wide sullen mouth and my big hands and big feet.” The book describes the conflict of mother and daughter relationships. Harris shows that no matter how badly we don’t want to end up like our parents, we can’t help but to inherit some of their qualities.

Many years later, Framboise has returned to the village and lives under another name. She has bought the old farm, and made a nice little restaurant there. No one must know that she is the daughter of her notorious mother. Through most of the book, the story builds to telling us the awful event that drove her family from the village and made them so hated. At the same time, there is a subplot about her brother’s son and his wife, who seem to be poised to let the secret out. What will happen?

That is the crux of the story. But what always makes Harris’s books so fine is the beauty of her writing, the way she weaves a story with interesting characters and unexpected motivations.

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