Book Review: Five Quarters of the Orange – Joanne Harris

Five Quarters of the Orange written by Joanne Harris – the same author that brought us Chocolat and Blackberry Wine brings the reader an endless selection of desserts.

If this wasn’t immediately apparent of her previous titles, she billets the characters as proponents of her cause:

Cassis, Reine-Claude, Framboise, Pistache, Noisette, P’che and Prune (Blackcurrant, Greengage, Raspberry, Pistachio, Hazelnut, Peach, and Plum)

 

The story follows the protagonist, Framboise throughout her reading of both the present and the past in a tale that transcends fifty-six years. The issue? There is no story time. Don’t get me wrong, the passage of time is most certainly noted, but there is a disconnect, and the protagonist frequently slips between the years in a transition that can be quite jarring.

 

Set post world war, Framboise tells the story of her childhood, of heroics and a partition from the adult world. She talks of resistance fighters and German collaborators without understanding – how a little foray into the black market, an innocent comment leashed her to German handlers, and everything went wrong.

 

As a psychological thriller – nothing is at first what it seems. To this effect, Harris writes well. The issue, however, is her plot. She capitalises on the cruelty and innocence of a childhood voice, but there is very little written that distinguishes between her childhood self and her adult self. She writes mostly from the perspective of hindsight, there is the realisation of wrongdoing – but no sense of emotion and thus, no sense of guilt. Harris is incredibly blase with this aspect, with the protagonist holding an almost dismissive view to her wrong doings.

 

It is this clarity and lack of sensitivity that keeps her narrative together in a grim Orwellian manner. Emotions are detailed – not developed, or when they are developed, they are done so in a manner that removes them from a context the reader understands. This can be demonstrated in the protagonist’s relationship with her mother – she loves her in hindsight, but her hindsight details very little love. There is a disconnect in what the protagonist narrates, and what the reader hears.

I suppose it’s an element of Framboise’ character-largely insensitive.

 

Overall I would say it’s an amazing read, and I was much enamoured by its prose. I would recommend it only if said readers are capable of deriving enjoyment from an unreliable narrator.

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