Main image
12th April
2010
written by Steph

Last year I read Gentlemen & Players by Joanne Harris and absolutely loved it.  Such a good thriller, one that was wonderfully written and had plenty of great twists.  Based on that, I decided I wanted to read more by Harris, and I picked up a copy of Five Quarters of the Orange on my subsequent trip to McKay’s. I think that Five Quarters is probably a more representative work of Harris’s, as it’s not exactly a thriller, and is instead a human drama with just a dash of mystery.  The story is that of Framboise Dartigan, who lived as a young girl in the town of Leslaveuses in German-occupied France during WWII.  Now an old woman who has returned to her hometown under the shroud of a different name, Framboise opens up a café in which she cooks up her mother’s family recipes, all the while coming to terms with her turbulent past.  Through her recollections, we return to her days as a nine-year old, and learn about her difficult relationship with her mother and siblings, as well as the tragic events that occurred that fateful summer, which caused her family to flee Leslaveuses. This was a quick Sunday afternoon read for me; I didn’t find it especially challenging, but I enjoyed the opportunity to be transported to small-town France.  Harris writes fluidly, easily carrying the reader between the past and present, plotting a graceful narrative between the two.  I found both of Framboise’s stories to be equally compelling, which is important in a multi-story novel, as it meant I wasn’t rushing through parts in order to get to the portions I was more interested in.  I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the sumptuous but simple rustic French dishes, which were amplified by the triumphant Spring renaissance that was taking place just outside my window. This is a novel that looks at love and rebirth, the stubbornness to survive.  Much of Framboise’s story revolves around her first love, but she also focuses on the enigma that was her mother, a harsh, no-nonsense woman with whom she shares more traits than Framboise would like to admit.  She reflects on how the two locked horns more often than not, but with age comes wisdom, and Framboise – now a mother herself – gradually begins to understand, if not sympathize, with her mother. There were a few things about this novel that bothered me, but none so much as the names of the characters!  Framboise, Noisette, Cassis, Pistache, Pêche… these are all names for fruits and nuts in French, and I just found the names unforgivably fey and twee for my liking.  Such a small thing, but whenever I read someone’s name, it gave me a twinge of annoyance! Ultimately, although I found characters in this novel interesting and I appreciated the story, I felt the novel was overly simplistic for my tastes.  The characters are complex and nuanced, and yet I was always aware that they were characters; they never crossed over in my mind to the land of living and breathing people (perhaps because of their ridiculous names?). There was something about their present selves that felt too neat, too tidy, too reserved and composed given their pasts. Was Framboise’s lack of emotion a coping mechanism, or was she just not fully realized by Harris? A quick, easy-going read that demands little of its reader and is a fine way to while away an afternoon when you want a break from more difficult fiction.  The kind of book where you can let your mind idle. Five Quarters of the Orange is a refreshing palate cleanser, but not something that makes for a robust, soul-satisfying literary feast. Rating: 3.5 out of 5

10 Comments

  1. 04/12/2010

    I thought the main character’s name sounding kind of odd, but I figured it was a French name I hadn’t heard before. I’ve never read any of Harris’ books, though I almost read “Chocolate” more than a few times.

    I’ve never heard of “Gentlemen & Players.” I’ll definitely keep it on my radar! Great review.

  2. 04/12/2010

    will put on my must read pile, Thanks!

  3. 04/12/2010

    I have this one on my shelf but have not yet read it. I bet it would be a perfect read for a sick day. Actually, I have been collecting quite a few of Harris’ books lately and have to make some time to read them. The one I am really interested in trying is called Sleep, Pale Sister. I heard the story is reminiscent of some of Sarah Waters better work. I am going to have to try to make some time for it, or if that fails, learn to read faster!

  4. well, i promised to stop judging books by their covers, but this one looks soooo good. and then i read your review. now i’m not so sure it’s the book for me but adore your usage of ‘fey’ and ‘twee’…i thought i was the only person under age 35 to use such fun vocabulary words!

    it’s disappointing that the characters never make the leap and blur the line between reality and fantasy. guess i’ll pick up chocolat (and netflix the movie) for my fill of harris.

  5. 04/13/2010

    I liked the cover and was intrigued by the name as well and then went to your review. I know cheesy I am!!! I did read Chocolat so will try to find this book as well.

  6. I haven’t read any Harris yet, but have several of her books here. I have her new one here, so might start with that one – I don’t mind the odd palate cleansing book!

  7. 04/13/2010

    I agree with your assessment of this one! I bought Gentlemen & Players at the library book sale last summer, but haven’t read it. Will check your review… sounds like I’m missing a good one!

  8. 04/13/2010

    @ J.S.: Yeah, because I speak French, the names really bugged me because I knew what they meant. I does seem like several of Harris’s books have a food theme, so I hope this isn’t a reoccurring trend in her books! 😉
     
    @ nicole: Thanks for commenting, and I hope you enjoy this book!
     
    @ zibilee: Yes, this would be perfect for a lazy, sick day read. It’s easy enough that your mind can wander a bit, which can be nice when you’ve been reading taxing books or are feeling under the weather.
    I’ve seen copies of Sleep, Pale Sister, but they’ve always been beyond my used-book budget, but the premise sounds creepy and awesome and I bet it’s great!
     
    @ nat: I totally judge books by their covers, so I certainly won’t tell you not to! And I didn’t realize that fey and twee were words for an older generation, but hey, if the shoe fits… 😉
     
    @ Mystica: I definitely would like to read Chocolat at some point… I haven’t even seen the movie! Harris is a writer I find reliable, and that certainly counts for something.
     
    @ Jackie: No, palate-cleansers are important, I think. I don’t like to read only heavy, draining books, because I get bogged down and restless. This was a great change of pace, and was a diverting read.
     
    @ JoAnn: Oh, do read G&P! It’s so fabulous and clever! Definitely more satisfying than this one.

  9. 04/13/2010

    Steph,

    I’ve been meaning to read this one forever, and just have not done so. Sounds like one that can wait a bit longer 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  10. 04/14/2010

    @ diane: it’s not a bad book by any means, but it didn’t knock my socks off. To use Lu’s scale on Regular Rumination, you could probably wait until next month for this one. 😉

Leave a Reply