At the famous Patisserie Clermont in Paris, 1909, a chance encounter with the owner’s daughter has given one young man a glimpse into a life he never knew existed: of sweet cream and melted chocolate, golden caramel and powdered sugar, of pastry light as air.
But it is not just the art of confectionery that holds him captive, and soon a forbidden love affair begins.
Almost eighty years later, an academic discovers a hidden photograph of her grandfather as a young man with two people she has never seen before. Scrawled on the back of the picture are the words ‘Forgive me’. Unable to resist the mystery behind it, she begins to unravel the story of two star-crossed lovers and one irrevocable betrayal.
In the 1980s, academic student Padra Stevenson has been hit hard by her grandfather's death. Whilst sorting through his belongings, she comes across an old photo of her grandfather with two others people; on the back is written "Claremont" and "Forgive me" written on the back. Intrigued, she wants to know the story behind this mysterious message. It takes over her thoughts and she begins to struggle with her thesis; then she finds another student has learnt the truth and is planning to publish her grandfather’s secret. Determined to stop this, Padra sets out to investigate. The background for the 1980s setting will bring back memories for many but somehow, it’s not such a captivating world as Paris – maybe because it’s not so exotic and is nearer to my own experience of life.
The book switches between periods, chapter by chapter. Back in 1909, Guillerme arrives in Paris and encounters a beautiful wealthy woman when he arrives. Everyday life takes over until one night, he goes out and unwittingly uses opium, waking up to find himself penniless and in the gutter. Looking for help, he comes across the woman, working at Paris' Cremont's Patisserie. She takes pity on him and he finds himself working at the patisserie. It’s a whole new world, of feather light confections and rich flavours; the world of confectionary is mouth-wateringly described and the atmosphere of early 20th century Paris is superbly evoked and to my mind these scenes are the better.
I did find that I felt the characters were slightly lacking in depth but I think this is the result of the format of the book – the style almost means two stories are condensed into one, meaning there is not quite enough opportunity to develop the characters to their full extent.
Personally, I don’t enjoy books which jump back and forth from one time period to another – I find I always want to keep on with the part of the story I am reading and I have a regrettable tendency to skip to and fro. Having said that, here it is well done and you do always know where you are in time and place. A well-written and engaging blend of love and mystery which has plenty of unexpected twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. The foodie aspect guarantees the book a good reception too, with the current resurgence of interest in baking and it all blends seamlessly together to produce a good read.
I'd like to thank Naomi at Transworld Books for sending me a copy of The Confectioner's Tale and Sarah for reviewing it for me.