Monday, December 3, 2012

The Emperor of Paris by C.S. Richardson

C.S. Richardson's The Emperor of Paris opens with a fire at a bakery in the 8th arrondissment of Paris, then eventually circles back through several decades in the earlier part of the 20th century before arriving at the same fire at the end of the book. Readers move through the novel like flรขneurs, meandering through interesting little tableaus that eventually coalesce into a larger picture.

Along the way, we get to know the baker, his parents and the course of their marriage; a young woman and how she came to have a scar across her face and all about her parents; and there's a penniless portrait artist, a bookseller with an outdoor stall on the Seine and various other people in the neighbourhood.

The baker cannot read but all he needs is a picture and he is able to invent fabulous stories. The woman with the scar loves art and books. The two are perfect for each other, if they can only overcome their shyness.

"The baker passes a pair of old women sitting on a bench. Each reads an identical copy of a cheap paperback. One grimaces as though stabbed through the heart and slaps her book closed. At the same moment, the other stifles a gasp with her hand, her eyes growing wide." I love this image of two readers reacting to the same book.

There's a marvellous sense of community in this gentle novel. I've got even more warm feelings about The Emperor of Paris since someone who selected it via my staff picks at the library loved the book so much that they wrote a letter to thank me for recommending it!

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