Like his father before him, Octavio runs the Notre-Dame bakery, and knows the secret recipe for the perfect Parisian baguette. But, also like his father, Octavio has never mastered the art of reading and his only knowledge of the world beyond the bakery door comes from his own imagination. Just a few streets away, Isabeau works out of sight in the basement of the Louvre, trying to forget her disfigured beauty by losing herself in the paintings she restores and the stories she reads. The two might never have met, but for a curious chain of coincidences involving a mysterious traveller, an impoverished painter, a jaded bookseller, and a book of fairytales, lost and found . . .
About the author
- Nominated, Scotiabank Giller Prize
CS RICHARDSON's first novel, The End of the Alphabet, was an international bestseller published in thirteen countries and ten languages. Winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book (Canada & the Caribbean), it was named on four Best of the Year lists and was adapted for radio drama by BBC Radio 4. Richardson is also an accomplished and award-winning book designer. He lives and works in Toronto.
“It is at once a painterly novel and a writerly one, the language delivered in the careful, enigmatic, deliberately restrained brush strokes of an impressionist, the whole image only gradually emerging into view as the sentences accrue. The spareness of Richardson’s approach has the opposite effect of what one might expect: his restraint with details lends weight and significance to every word, every image, and the novel shimmers with the heightened clarity of a dream. . . .
“It’s hard to rave noisily about such a quietly beautiful novel, but I will try. The Emperor of Paris is brilliant; it lingers; I will read it again, and again. (In fact, I will read every novel Richardson writes.) If you love finely crafted sentences and spare, elegant prose; if you love charming characters and a tender, affecting story; if you love books and Paris and boulangeries, you will love this novel.”
—The Globe and Mail
“It is much too early in the year to be picking the year’s best books but I will be shocked if I read 5 novels better than [The Emperor of Paris] in 2012. Well, I’d be delighted actually as that would mean I will have read at least 6 perfectly presented stories that make one think back, meditate, feel and enjoy in warmth and human sympathy.”
—Herald de Paris
“The Emperor of Paris is a metaphorical feast for the senses, each sentence offering up some little detail—a richly hued peacock feather, a dash of raspberry jam—to linger over and savour.”
—Winnipeg Free Press
“The Emperor of Paris is a rich and well-told story of the transcendent power of art; it would not be surprising if it were to gain even greater accolades than The End of the Alphabet.”
—Quill & Quire
“It is at once a painterly novel and a writerly one, the language delivered in the careful, enigmatic, deliberately restrained brush strokes of an impressionist, the whole image only gradually emerging into view as the sentences accrue. The spareness of Richardson’s approach has the opposite effect of what one might expect: his restraint with details lends weight and significance to every word, every image, and the novel shimmers with the heightened clarity of a dream. . . . the reader will be swept up, and will read with anxious, bated breath, yearning for that destined moment, that perfect singularity and culmination.”
—The Calgary Herald
The Emperor of ParisOnce upon a time in the eighth arrondissement, there stood an oddly-shaped building known to all as the cake-slice. Taking the form of a wedge, the cake-slice housed a bakery that, for several generations, provided the citizens of the eighth with their daily bread. The baker, affectionately called The Thinnest Baker in Paris, had a very round wife and a charmingly curious son named Octavio, born on the eighth day of the eighth month in the eighth arrondissement. During the week, they would bake, and on weekends, the Thinnest Baker in Paris would open up the newspaper, look at the pictures, and make up the most wonderful tales for Octavio, for although they both loved stories, neither father nor son could read. One day, a Great War took the Thinnest Baker in Paris far, far away, and when he came back, he returned with a spirit smashed into tiny little pieces. The title of the Thinnest Baker in Paris then passed to Octavio, who took his Father to the Louvre on Sundays to gaze at the art and tell mesmerizing stories to anyone who cared to listen.
All manner of men, women, and children populated the eighth arrondissement, and many of them visited the cake-slice: the family of booksellers who formed psychic connections with their books, the artist who slept under the bridge, the couple who climbed their way out of abject poverty to become the last word in Paris fashion, their disfigured daughter who restored masterpieces in the basement of the Louvre and spent her free time losing herself in stories, the gossips, and the blind man who saw all.
Rooted in the realist style with overtones of fable, The Emperor of Paris tells the stories of the inhabitants of the eighth arrondissement throughout the first four decades of the twentieth century. Richardson, in a nod to Flaubert, uses precise language to evoke vivid geographical and emotional landscapes, and the story-within-a-story structure pays homage to Arabian Nights, which figures prominently in the novel and ends up bringing Octavio his heart’s desire. Exquisitely crafted, The Emperor of Paris is a captivating tribute to literature, community, and the enduring nature of love.
This review also appears on my blog at www.theteatimereader.wordpress.com.