Five Quarters of the Orange: A Recommended Novel by the Author of Chocolat
Five Quarters of the Orange
A novel from Joanne Harris
Five Quarters of the Orange - a recommended read
Framboise Dartigen was the youngest of three children. When her mother Mirabelle died she was characteristically somewhat strange in the terms of her rather eccentric last will and testament. Mirabelle was an unusual woman, to say the least.
Framboise's brother was bequeathed the family farm. Her sister received the contents of the vast wine cellar and Framboise's legacy was a single black truffle, preserved in olive oil, and her mother's old and somewhat battered album.
Strange yes, as most parents are careful to treat all their children equally. However, this was typical of Mirabelle Dartigen. But what were the secrets contained in the album? Did Framboise get the most valuable legacy, after all?
Occupied France in WW2
Framboise, now the owner of her mother's album, is the narrator of our story. She is a sixty-four year old widow who has returned to the French village of her childhood after leaving it during the Second World War as as child of nine. Little has changed.
The family lived on a farm, their livelihood, in the small hamlet of Les Laveuses. Mirabelle, their mother, was a widow who was a hard and unyielding woman.
But Framboise has returned to her hometown hiding her real identity. It is important for her to be in the area in which she grew up but she took every precaution to conceal her real identity, even though she left fifty years before.
No-one must know who she is - no-one must recognise her as her mother's daughter.
Why? What is her secret?
Mirabelle Dartigen's album
A history revealed
An evil legend
Mirabelle's album, as the book progresses, reveals a history from the Second World War which takes Framboise fifty years to decipher.
Although it is referred to in the book as an album, Framboise's inheritance is a mix of a scrapbook, a journal and a jumble of personal notes. Her mother has collected newspaper cuttings and pasted them into the book. There are recipes written in her own hand and those clipped from publications.
The scrapbook contains herbal remedies, gardening advice and prosaic, helpful tips and notes. Framboise also discovers scraps of poetry, old photographs and, intriguingly, notes in her mother's handwriting that appear to be in a foreign language. What clues are contained here? What secrets?
Childhood in occupied France
As Framboise describes her childhood, her mother's strange personality is revealed. She appears to have no emotion other than anger. Her children have never seen her cry and only rarely has she been known to smile.
She only seems to be happy when she is cooking. Food is the thing she loves most in life.
But she is obsessive about work and discipline - looking after the farm and the house, plus maintaining - or trying to - high standards for her children.
However, this is occupied rural France. Framboise and her siblings largely acted as they pleased when their mother's watchful eye was elsewhere. And due to an unspecified illness, which caused her to retire to her room on regular occasions, Mirabelle's children were able to run wild.
They fished and swam in the river Loire, they have their own secret hideout in the woods and - once they realised its potential - got to know the Germans who were billeted locally. The Germans, after all, could supply them with comics, chocolates and small but welcome luxuries. All they asked in return was a little information. Where was the harm in that?
They could also supply Framboise with oranges. Oranges were scarce and precious but they were invaluable for the nine year old girl. They gave her control. She knew how to control her own mother.
Occupied France: Video
Framboise has many secrets. Her brother and sister are older than she is and she cannot confide in them. Just like most all older siblings, they have no patience with their young sister.
Young though she is, she has discovered the secret of retaining an element of control over her unpredictable mother.
A ruthless woman
Framboise has returned to the area of her childhood using her married name. It is her fear that one of the locals, even after all these years, will recognise her as the daughter of Mirabelle Dartigen - the 'evil legend'.
Is it true that Mirabelle was a cold and callous killer?
Was Framboise's staid and strict mother a secret collaborator?
The villagers called Mirabelle a 'nazi whore' - how on earth could that be true?
Finally, as she approaches her own old age, Framboise discovers the truth about her mother.
Read the book
When I read this book, there were moments when I simply gasped at the ramifications of the story. No spoilers here - I recommend this book so highly. The story of Framboise will stay with you forever.
Intentionally, I have only given you the basic outline of this magnificent novel.
I suspect that It won't surprise you - and I'm giving nothing away here - when I say that the truth about the tragedy, the lies and the reasons behind them are revealed in the album that Mirabelle bequeathed to Framboise.
At the same time she is trying to decipher her mother's notes, she is also battling for her own livelihood as her nephew (and his brittle, businesslike wife) has realised the money-making potential that is contained within the album.
The calculating nephew goes to extremes to break Framboise's strong will and to ensure that her legacy is his also.
But Framboise is more like her mother than she ever imagined.
© 2014 Jackie Jackson