One of my favourite sex scenes in literature, and one little written about, comes from the novel Chocolat. Chocolat is the story about a single parent, Vianne Rocher, and her six-year old daughter who, after a life spent on the road, settle to open a chocolate boutique in a traditional French village a week after Shrove Tuesday. The book describes the escalating danger this exotic and mystical woman with her sensuous, addictive merchandise so tempting during Lent, wields in the unstable mind of the controlling parish curé, Father Reynaud. The conflict, at first simmering under the surface, escalates as more locals are drawn to the psychic and enigmatic Vianne for counsel as well as chocolate.
Anyone who has read this book will remember Harris’s languid, thickly-sweet prose and her gift in building tension. Not just between Vianne and the priest or between the villagers themselves, but the sexual tension that intensifies between her and another outsider, the river gypsy, Michel Roux. There is no instant gratification, the scene of their lovemaking doesn’t unfold until the third to last chapter, but it’s worth the wait.
Harris begins the chapter with a birthday celebration dinner marking the secret farewell to the community of the elderly host, Armande. Saddened by this knowledge and exhausted from coordinating the party, Vianne is busy in the kitchen cooking and serving a magnificent banquet.
Told from Vianne’s point of view, Harris recounts snippets of conversations while describing in detail the sumptuous array of food and drink on offer. She paints a warm and harmonious picture of the evening describing how, after a few glasses of Chablis, Vianne at last begins to relax and enjoy herself. At 1 am Vianne helps Armande to bed. When she comes back downstairs only one of the guests remains, Roux, who has stayed on the pretext to help her clear up. Harris sets the scene with a simple elegance.
‘Are you all right?’ he said at last. His hand was gentle on my shoulder. His hair was marigolds.’
With this first touch Roux initiates the inevitable and Harris takes us by the hand and leads us into the garden to witness a sensual yet brief account of the couple’s love making.
She uses muted and evocative words like ‘cupped’, ‘pad’, ‘slow sweetness’ and ‘fluttering’ to ensure the reader knows the act is a tender one. ‘We lay on the grass like children. We made no promises, spoke no words of love though he was gentle, almost passionless...’ a contrast with the reader’s initial image of Roux. Given his red hair and earlier hostile mood, one expects a firebrand.
Adhering to Spider Robinson’s views, the scene is “believable, consensual and a natural development of the story”. It flows with ease and is not in the slightest contrived.
‘I knew that this could be the only time between us, and felt only a dim melancholy at the thought... For the moment, simple wonder; at myself lying naked in the grass, at the silent man beside me, at the immensity above and the immensity within.’
With her simple and effortless style Harris conveys how this act of love is less about the man and woman and more about the seed Roux plants, ‘... I closed my eyes and tried to dream of her...’ the gift of life and love that was predicted by Vianne’s tarot cards.
‘When I awoke, Roux was gone, and the wind had changed again.’
J M Leitch is author of The Zul Enigma, a futuristic thriller looking back at a cataclysmic event that occurred on 21 December 2012, end of the Mayan calendar.