Harris, Joanne. The Lollipop Shoes. Transworld, 2010.
I think this link is right. Apparently the name of the book I'm about to review is different in the US and UK, ironic because I--an American--picked it our of a secondhand bin solely because of the title and stunning cover image of the British version. Amusing.
The Lollipop Shoes is a novel of nebulous genre: part romance, part dark magic, and part character study. Its British title derives from the bright red shoes worn by the protagonist, a woman of many borrowed identities, who goes by the name "Zozie" for the greatest part of the novel.
Zozie is an expert at using bank receipts and other paraphernalia to steal identities, usually of the deceased. With a few magic symbols and quietly uttered words of power, she is usually able to avoid detection and build lives for herself out of nothing. When she stumbles across young Yanne Charbonneau, a single mother who works in a Parisian chocolaterie, she pauses in her forgery and begins a new plan of attack: more than anything, she desires Yanne's life.
Yanne, of course, has secrets of her own to hide, including the identity of her younger child's father. Struggling to manage a chocolaterie with two young children, she is swept up in Zozie's unexpected enthusiasm, and soon finds herself somewhat at Zozie's mercy. The bulk of the book is an intertwining of stories of seduction, not (usually) in the sexual sense, but in the realms of trust and acceptance. The chocolaterie changes from a small struggling shop into a home of romance and community, and Zozie seduced Yanne's eldest, Anouk, with magic and pretty trinkets. The chocolaterie becomes beautiful, and welcoming, but Harris manages to retain an underlying sense of tension throughout, reminding us at every turn that the happiness she describes is forced, and that actions have consequences.
I didn't expect to find this book as interesting as I did, nor as serious, but I enjoyed it. The dark undercurrents of suspense occasionally wander a bit too heavily into the deus ex machina allowed by the presence of magic in the book, but the plot is heavily dependent on this conceit, and the novel would not, unfortunately, stand on its own without it. However, the story is interesting and the characters well-scripted, and lovers of chocolate, magic, and Paris should certainly give it a read.