The Emperor of Paris

Written by C. S. Richardson
Review by Janice Parker

That baker Octavio Notre-Dame will meet art restorer Isabeau Normande in C. S. Richardson’s second novel, The Emperor of Paris, is never in doubt to the reader, but Richardson does not make the meeting quick or painless. And for that, the reader is all the richer.

In early 20th century Paris, Isabeau initially becomes aware of Octavio as he escorts his shell-shocked father around the Louvre, making up imaginative stories about the paintings and their inhabitants. When she later sees him carrying large bundles of books across the Tuileries Garden each Sunday afternoon, she believes he must be a writer or, at least, and an avid reader like herself. What she can’t know is that, like herself, Octavio suffers from a childhood impairment which prevents him from embracing the world as fully as he would like.

Richardson’s novel is a beautifully constructed book which he says took five years to write and in which the reader can appreciate his carefully chosen, witty and inviting words on every page. His love of Paris is clear throughout the novel, but instead of putting the city center stage he uses it very successfully as a quiet backdrop against which his collection of beautifully observed, idiosyncratic characters go about their daily lives. By taking his time and choosing his words carefully, Richardson masterfully weaves the strands of their stories together into an extraordinary love story.

Despite Richardson’s first novel, The End of the Alphabet, winning the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize and The Emperor of Paris being longlisted for the 2012 Giller Prize, Richardson believes that he is still ‘learning the craft’ of writing. If the beauty and atmosphere of his latest novel is anything to go by, I readily look forward to his next endeavour.