CS Richardson is a writer based in Toronto. His previous novel, The End of the Alphabet, won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for best first book. In interviews he has identified the great Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges as an influence, and in terms of style and rich literary culture, this can certainly be seen. However, unlike Borges, Richardson's subject matter is sweetly sentimental.
The Emperor of Paris is the circuitous story of how Octavio Notre-Dame and Isabeau Normande come together and find love.
Despite their physical proximity, they are an unlikely couple who belie the grandiloquent title of the novel: he, a humble baker, she, working in the basement of the Louvre restoring art. Both play uncelebrated roles that nonetheless contribute to what is quintessentially Parisian: food and culture.
Richardson is an impeccable stylist, which makes this "period piece" all the more compelling. He has a good feel for the Paris of the early 20th century, and his love for the city shines through: both its high culture, and the everyday, grittier culture of the street. He has a great way of subtly communicating the unspoken social codes that to this day rule Paris more firmly than any mere government:
"The bakery's location in a building named for a pastry confection was an irony lost on no one. For centuries there had been an order to the world, a natural division of gastronomic labours. Bakers worked their dough, pastry men fussed with their marzipan. Each kept to his own, begrudging enough if he found himself walking past the other's shop. To feed your family, you were off to the boulangerie. Weakness for a macaron meant a trip to the patisserie and be quick about it. It was a sensible order: everyone knew to visit a fruit seller when looking for a squash was foolishness; dogs and cats in the same litter meant the end of civilization."
A lyrical and charming book. Recommended !