Review: The Emperor of Paris — C.S. Richardson

Read: 58
To Go: 42

Book List:
51. The Overlook — Michael Connelly
52. Chasing The Dime — Michael Connelly
53. Sweet Talk — Julie Garwood
54. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin — Louis de Bernieres
55. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair — Nina Sankovitch
56. Close Your Eyes — Amanda Eyre Ward
57. The Last Coyote — Michael Connelly
58. The Emperor of Paris — C.S. Richardson

An intricate and graceful story of the beginnings of an unlikely romance between an illiterate Parisian baker and a woman hiding in a world of books and art.

Octavio Notre-Dame comes from a long line of bakers. Working the ovens of the eighth-district establishment known throughout the neighbourhood as the cake-slice, he produces baguettes and brioches with timeless perfection. Nurtured by his father, Octavio discovers his imagination in stories, but like generations of Notre-Dame men before him, Octavio bears the shame of being unable to read.

Isabeau Normande is born to parents devoted to appearance, to the beauty that shimmers on the surface of things. As a child she suffers a disfiguring accident. As a young woman she finds solace in the basement of the Louvre, restoring great works of art to their original glory. She loses herself in the faces of others while covering the scars that mark her own. But Isabeau’s deepest comfort comes from books.

Set in motion by an endearing cast of misfits — an impoverished painter, a near-blind watchmaker, a jazz-playing veteran of the trenches of World War I and a lonely bookseller — this is a story of the happenstance and fateful twists that can propel two would-be lovers into each other’s path.

Well, hello again! Judging by how fast I read The Emperor of Paris, there may be hope for me yet! But that might just be because this was an amazing book, and I felt positively compelled to keep reading.

When I first started reading The Emperor of Paris, I thought it was a little bit unusual, and seemed sort of all over the place. It jumps between the pasts of both Isabeau and Octavio — starting from their births and leading up to the days before they met each other — and the moment they first meet, in the aftermath of a fire at Octavio’s bakery. Once I’d got that narrative all sorted, I found it to be really clever, and interesting — especially how fortuitous everything was. I really enjoyed the secondary characters, Henri, Jacob, Le Drop, and Grenelle, and also felt really connected to Octavio’s parents’ story.

The central theme — the power of stories and books to connect people — was woven really seamlessly, and subtly, through the story. And it wasn’t just about reading and books, either. Even illiterate characters like Octavio and his father were deeply affected and connected by story-telling. The Emperor of Paris was just really, ridiculously beautiful (and I feel like my review is far too clunky, and doing the book a total disservice).

As a final note, I love that parts of the story were included in the book’s cover and overall aesthetic. One of the most important stories that Emile Notre-Dame tells his son is the book’s title; the peacock feather is the same as the pattern of Isabeau’s scarf; and when you take the book jacket off, the book is bright red — a colour that appears several times throughout the story. Just thought it was really neat!

I’m going to end with my favourite quote from The Emperor of Paris:

“She — was a reader.
He had a library.”
 (262)

Next book: The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison, or one of the Michael Connelly books.

– Kelsey

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