PEACHES FOR MONSIEUR LE CURE.
Three years have passed. Vianne has been living and working in her floating chocolate shop with her daughters, Rosette, who is eight, and Anouk, who is now fifteen, although Roux, who finds it impossible to settle in one place for long, has resumed his itinerant lifestyle. Rosette is still mostly non-verbal, but has a vibrant inner life. Anouk is still close to Jean-Loup, the young friend she made in THE LOLLIPOP SHOES, although she is worried for him because he needs an operation that may put his life at risk.
Then Vianne receives a letter from her old friend Armande’s grandson Luc, writing to her from Lansquenet. The letter contains a note from Armande herself, written just before her death and left for Luc to open on reaching the age of twenty-one. The letter implies that Vianne is needed in the village, and urges her to pay Reynaud a visit. Vianne finds this request from beyond the grave impossible to refuse, and returns to Lansquenet with her daughters at the start of the summer holidays; moving temporarily into Armande’s old house, which now belongs to her grandson.
She finds significant changes in the village. A Muslim community – including a mosque – of mostly Moroccan families relocated from Marseille has formed across the river, causing friction with some members of this very traditional Catholic community. Reynaud, whose efforts to welcome the immigrants have not been entirely successful, has been wrongly accused of having set fire to a Muslim girls’ school, and is in danger of losing his parish to a trendy new priest who is proving more popular with his flock. Finding himself in dire straits, he is forced to ask for Vianne’s help.
Meanwhile, Vianne becomes involved in the life of the Muslim community. She finds friends and acceptance there, except from a mysterious woman called Ines Bencharki, who wears a niqab, and who is seen as a bad influence by many of the women in both the Moroccan community and the locals of Lansquenet. Ines – who ran the school which was the target of the arson attack – is a single woman with a young daughter, and Vianne is drawn to her for this reason, seeing her as a reflection of her past self. But Ines refuses all advances, and she seems impervious to Vianne’s charm. Even her chocolates are unwelcome; the Muslim community is fasting for Ramadan.
Meanwhile, Josephine, Vianne’s friend from her Lansquenet days, has an eight-year-old son, Pilou, who quickly makes friends with Rosette, while Anouk rekindles her childhood friendship with Jeannot Drou. Vianne begins to suspect that Roux, who has always been friendly with Josephine, may be Pilou’s father. Vianne decides to stay in the village for a time, partly to find out the truth and partly to help Reynaud, who is trying to rehabilitate himself by restoring the damaged schoolhouse, which was in the building that was once Vianne’s old chocolaterie. When Reynaud comes across a Muslim girl, Alyssa, trying to drown herself in the river, he brings her to Vianne for help. Vianne uncovers a number of family secrets, including sexual grooming in Alyssa’s family, and the mystery surrounding Ines deepens. She also discovers that Josephine’s husband is Pilou’s father, although her earlier suspicions regarding Roux have created a distance between them. Meanwhile, Reynaud is attacked by a mystery assailant and, suffering a crisis of faith, decides to leave the village. His departure is intercepted, however, and he ends up a prisoner in a cellar on the Moroccan side of the river while Vianne comes increasingly closer to the mystery of Ines Bencharki. She eventually learns that Ines’ niqab hides a tragic secret of disfigurement and abuse, and the identity of the real villain in the Muslim community is revealed. Reynaud is released with a changed and chastened attitude, and is welcomed back by his parishioners. Vianne’s friends, who with Reynaud’s help, have restored the chocolate shop, beg her to stay for good this time. Vianne is sorely tempted, but at the end of the book, she has not yet reached a decision.
One of the recurring visuals in this novel is William Morris’ Strawberry Thief design. Find out more about it here.