Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Review: Five Quarters of the Orange, by Joanne Harris

Reviewed by Christina

Published: 2001 (I seem to be reading an awful lot of books that were published around this same time: 1998, 2000, 2001. Strange.)

It's about: Françoise Simon (née Framboise Dartigen) has returned to her childhood village in the Loire river valley after decades away from home. The townfolk don't realize that she is the daughter of the infamous Mirabelle, a woman they blame for a massacre that occurred during the German Occupation of WWII. Through concurrently developing story lines, Framboise reveals her role in the tragedy and her modern-day struggles to keep her identity secret.

I thought: My first impression: stupid title. There can't be five quarters of any one thing, so there better be a good reason for naming this book Five Quarters of THE Orange. Hmph. It does have a pretty cover, though, and it was a gift from my mother-in-law, whose opinion I trust. So let's just say I had mixed feelings.
But it didn't take long for me to be swept away in the incredibly engaging, dark, beautifully-weaved tale. It's one of those stories that just grabs hold of you and doesn't let go. I read it quickly, and I thought about it all the time. Ms. Harris doesn't quit until the very end. The #1 best thing about Five Quarters is, quite simply, the story. And the writing is pretty and descriptive enough to make reading it pleasurable. This would be a perfect vacation book (if you like seriousness) because it'll tickle your literary sensibilities without making you concentrate too hard. Its fast pace makes it feel like a guilty pleasure novel, but I can't sneer at the writing the way I would with so many other quick reads.
Framboise and her mother are wonderfully complex, dynamic characters who have rich emotions and fully developed opinions. Their relationship, intense and conflict-ridden, is a fascinating extension of the mother-daughter tension many women experience. In general, Harris describes emotion with startling accuracy. And it's a good thing, too, because this is a very emotional book.
One thing that I remember reading in at least one pet peeve post recently: untranslated dialogue. Five Quarters has a fair amount of French and German that isn't translated, and I personally love it that way. But if that bugs you, prepare to be annoyed with Madame Harris.
I did grow tired of the characters' food-related names. At first I was amused, but two generations later, when Framboise's granddaughter's name was Pêche, I had to roll my eyes and willingly suspend my disbelief.
I still don't love the title, but I can't deny that I really, really enjoyed this book in spite of it.

Verdict: Sur l'étagère! (On the Shelf!)

Warnings: Some naughty words (not a ton) and some pretty heavy adult themes. One sex scene, not explicit.

Favorite excerpts:
"Delicious tremors went through me, as if someone were playing a delicate bone xylophone just above my pelvis, and my head rang with an indescribable light feeling. Today anything was possible, I told myself giddily. Anything at all."

What I'm reading next: Gar Fish and Long Gravy by Alexander Devereux
(I tried to read it and the writing was so bad that I had to stop for the sake of my mental health.)
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman