Review of Joanne Harris at St. Etheldreda’s Church in Ely 29th April 2010

The mention of “Chocolat” is usually enough to conjure up an image of Joanne Harris, an author with a gift for getting inside the heads of real people, giving credence to their varied whims and undeniable desires and exploring in depth, their complex communities.

When she first stepped forward to introduce herself to the packed church of St Etheldreda’s Church in Ely, she was every bit the colourful and perceptive person expected. With a charming demeanor, Joanne captivated the audience as she shared her special view on life and the way people tick in communities that are the same worldwide. She read from her latest novel “Blueeyedboy”,  her honeyed tones bringing her sensitive and luxurious prose to life. We could relate exactly with characters that were completely different to ourselves and empathize with their feelings as they battled to understand and cope with the world around them and to make their mark within their tiny environments.

Joanne has written a string of varied novels including “Runemarks”, “Gentlemen and Players”, “The French market”, “Five Quarters of the Orange” and “Blackberry Wine”. Of these she especially enjoyed writing “Gentlemen and Players” which gives insight into the world of teaching incorporating echoes from her own experience as a young teacher in a public school. She admitted that “Five Quarters of the Orange” was her happiest novel.

She writes two types of book – those written on sunny days and the rest of the time those written on gloomy, rainy days. Hers is not the disciplined, militant approach. She starts writing and lets the characters lead her as the book gradually develops by process of accumulation. Hers is not the linear approach but one that explores characters in-depth often written in the first person divulging intimate and individual perspectives.  

Joanne’s interest in synesthesia helped create “Blueeyedboy”. Synesthesia is a condition in which more than one sense is evoked with different stimuli. Numbers, the days of the week or any stimuli can trigger specifically related colours, smells or personalities. Her own sensitivity and preference for bright colours and light is reflected in her writing.

As this slim, bright, honest, amusing and colourful author shared her thoughts with us, we were definitely wooed and it became clear from listening to her vibrant prose that this famous author definitely warrants the acclaim she has acquired.



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