Kimbofo reviews The Emperor of Paris


Welcome to the first 2012 Shadow Giller prize “guest” appearance at KfC — an excerpt from Kimbofo’s review of The Emperor of Paris with a link (right here) to her full review.

For newcomers (or those who have forgotten), here’s the Shadow Giller drill from now on: I will continue to offer full reviews here, but as the other three jurors move into full swing, you will find more references to their reviews here. Kim at Reading Matters was delivered a Giller package by hand by Mrs. KfC a few weeks back and this is her first review from that. Trevor at the Mookse and the Gripes will again be taking on the entire shortlist once it is announced. And Alison, who doesn’t blog, will be featured with some guest reviews here and comments on the other two blogs.

We apologize again that we can’t offer more than an overview at the longlist stage: the back-end publication schedule of Canadian novels and the short period between long and short lists means it is just too hard to get books to the Shadow Giller international participants in time for longlist reviews. I can say that 12 of the 13 titles have now been read by at least one Shadow juror, so reviews will be flowing regularly from now on. And, as usual, the sidebar at the right will feature links to all reviews that have been published at all three sites. And, again as usual, reader comments are both encouraged and welcome on all three sites.

And so, the opening paragraphs of Kim’s review of CS Richardson’s The Emperor of Paris (and click on the link above to get the whole thing):

Available at

I love Paris, I love cooking and I love reading. No surprise, then, that a novel about a Parisian-based book-collecting baker would have some appeal. But CS Richardson’s The Emperor of Paris, which has been longlisted for this year’s Giller Prize, was a bit like a cake that fails to rise: flat and disappointing. And forgive me for spinning out the baking analogy even further, but the ingredients in this novel just didn’t work — for this reader at least — despite being packed with flavour.

Spanning a 50-year period between the turn of the 19th century and the Second World War, and covering everything from war to fine art, book-selling and story-telling, the tale largely revolves around the impossibly thin and illiterate baker Emile Notre-Dame; his rotund and religious Italian wife, Immacolata; and their son, Octavio.

In prose that is wistful and fable-like, Richardson tells the family’s history running the popular BOULA GERIE NOTRE-DAME (“the N having long since vanished”) in a narrow flatiron building (known as the “cake-slice”) in the 8th arrondissement of Paris.

In the untitled prologue, we discover that the bakery has burned down and that, somewhat unusually, it contained a vast collection of books — there are “shards of red leathers and frayed blue cloths, the curled and blackened edges of marble papers” floating in the air. We are left with that picture in our mind’s eye, but must read almost an entire novel — interspersed with “callbacks” as reminders of the fire — to find out how the bakery came to be transformed into one man’s personal library.


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