349 - Joanne Harris: The French Connection

Joanne Harris’ most recent novel is Blueeyedboy. She is probably best known for the book Chocolat, which was made into a movie. Chocolat is set in France and Joanne Harris is herself half-French. We asked her about French society today:

Joanne Harris: (Standard English accent):

I think France has struggled for a long time. I think it has a number of issues that trouble it, which are not quite the same as the ones that trouble Britain. I think it’s had some political confusion… and I think there is a real concern about immigration, and about ways changing generally and… and losing track of what it means to be French and I think the French suffer from this particularly at the moment.

And we asked her whether France was different from other European countries in this respect:

Joanne Harris: (Standard English accent):

I think it is articulated in a different way in France and the authorities are dealing with that issue in a completely different way. France has never been known to be tolerant: France is quite isolationist in some ways… and France is terribly afraid of being invaded in one way or another, either by other languages, by other cultures, by other beliefs. France has always had a bit of a bee in its bonnet about English words being incorporated into the French language and there’s always been quite an aggressive rejection, at least by the authorities, although, in common usage, it’s absolutely impossible to get rid of those influences, and so there’s always been a bit of a troubled spot there.

Prior to becoming a full-time writer, Joanne Harris was a schoolteacher. In Britain many people think that educational standards are in decline. We asked her whether she agreed:

Joanne Harris: (Standard English accent):

I do think that educational standards are in decline and I think it’s partly because the… the goalposts have been moved so often now, to accommodate so many people, that actually there are no goalposts any more and nobody knows who is a good academic student or not any more because everything is felt to be punitive: testing is felt to be punitive, isolating better pupils from low-achieving pupils is… is… thought to be a wrong thing to do… I’m not sure this is necessarily a good thing, I think what it does is is narrows the margins and allows a lot of people to slip through the net. It doesn’t help the low achievers, it doesn’t help the higher achievers. Only, I think, the people in the middle are likely to benefit from this, which is a pity, because I do believe in… in excellence and I think that excellence should be encouraged.

(Joanne Harris was talking to Mark Worden)