Joanne Harris describes this collection of short stories as “a medley of unnamed pieces… a cheery addendum to the main act Chocolat, with the idea of free spirits being able to go anywhere and do anything, with the magic of the wind directing the spirit to new places and new people. Another story, “Auto-da-fé” reminded me of the boys from Top Gear
, with the saying, “A man’s car defines him… a reflection of the male superego.” ;) On the other hand, her post-apocalyptic stories, “The G-SUS Gene” with its discussion of a scientific search for redemption and freedom from sin, and the overzealous attempts to limit and remove potential threats of aggression in “The Spectator” are quite unnerving.
Though intriguing, many of Harris’s stories leave you wanting more. The story “The Ugly Sister” is a good example. It’s Harris’s take on Cinderella
after the happily ever after ending, told from the perspective of one of the ugly stepsisters. I loved how she describes the various takes on fairytales—from the dark macabre of the brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault to the happy peppy world offered by Disney—all the characters from the good to the bad trying to make a different impression on these various artists in the hopes that they’d finally offer them the happy ending they desire. It seems that the ugly stepsister may finally get her wish with the sudden appearance of a tall, dark stranger. Yet the ending is a bit ambiguous. We do learn the name of this stranger at the very end, but is this revelation good or bad? With his grin, he’s a walking dichotomy of sinister kindness. I truly wished there was more!
However, Harris wrote two stories that are real gems. “Tea with the Birds” is excellent and has some beautiful imagery. I loved the scene describing the ritual of serving Japanese tea and how the steam rising from the cup resembled birds’ wings in flight… evoking the memory of Juzo’s art. While “Tea with the Birds” is poignant, “Eau de Toilette” is a satire of 18th century fashions and is hysterically funny. Though some of the fashion practices Harris describes are indeed true, she does exaggerate quite a bit. But the overall image and the little surprise revelation at the end are great. It was a good decision to end the collection with this wonderfully amusing story.