Steven Langdon's Reviews > The Emperor of Paris

The Emperor of Paris by C.S. Richardson
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Sep 03, 2012

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Read in September, 2012

This is a very difficult book to rate! Much of the writing is very fine, the novel is wonderfully evocative of Paris in all its historical diversity and depth of character, and the fundamental story told is emotionally powerful. But the structure of this book is seriously (and needlessly) frustrating -- as if someone instructed the author that he must make his novel as difficult as possible to savour and enjoy.

"Wear your clothes," someone must have said, "inside out and upside down -- and you will be noticed!"

After going through the book twice, I now can follow the hidden logic of what C.S. Richardson is writing -- and I can say that this is a beautiful tale of emerging love, set against the backdrop of grim times (World War One, and the Depression of the 1930's,) in the dramatic setting of the 8th arrondissement of Paris. It is a novel that captures the wonder of unlooked for passions, and presents a rich parade of fascinating characters who stay with you -- the baker Octavio Notre-Dame and his war-ridden father, the frustrated artist Jacob Kalb from Geneva, bookseller Henri Fournier with his magic book and the scarred woman Isabeau Normande, working so hard at safeguarding the paintings in the Louvre.

In his first book, Richardson had a straightforward structure -- the book was "The End of the Alphabet," and it was based around a dying man trying to pursue places in alphabetical order before his demise. No obscurity -- but wonderful writing and a devastating theme. Did someone tell the author he could prove he could rival Michael Ondaatje in structural complexity?

Too bad -- an excellent novel became, in my view, merely good through trying too hard.
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