In an ever-so-cozy tale, a woman returns to the small French island of her ancestry to reconnect with her roots and act generally plucky.
Amid descriptions of delicious scenery, quaint customs, and mouthwatering delicacies, the story is told of Madeline (“Mado” to anyone who cares) coming back from Paris to the windswept French island of Le Devin, where her father still lives after her mother’s death. There are two towns: the northern one, Les Salants, is poor, hardscrabble, and full of character, while the southern, La Houssiniere, is rich, arrogant, and touristy. Any guesses where Mado hails from? The ocean is indeed a harsh mistress, and Mado notices right away, after failing to make much headway in reconnecting with her taciturn, mule-headed father, that Les Salants’ formerly gorgeous beach has been mostly washed out to sea. Mado senses a project just crying out for her to organize, and so, in the grand tradition of fictional small towns everywhere, the people of Les Salants leave their grumpiness behind and band together to build a reef that will shelter the beach and, they hope, encourage some of the tourist business away from La Houssiniere. Unfortunately, though, the proprietor of La Houssiniere’s hotel, Les Immorteles, a foxy businessman by the name of Claude Brismand, won’t take the challenge lying down. As the battle rages, Mado has her father, a snooty sister, and a potential romance with an Englishman to keep her occupied as well, so there’s no telling whether the forces of good will be able to hold off the onslaught of the southern villains. It’s all as underwhelming as it sounds, chockablock with stereotypically earthy villagers and picturesque, Travel Channel–like prose.
Rightly or wrongly, Harris (Chocolat, 1999; Five Quarters of the Orange, 2001, etc.) delivers the goods for readers who can’t get enough of this sort of thing.