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.
Until last week’s blog tour, I hadn’t really heard a lot about this book when I chose it from Netgalley. But the fact that it was a dual narrative love story that also featured patisserie made it appeal immediately. The Confectioner’s Tale by Laura Madeleine was published on 23rd April by Black Swan (Transworld), and is now available for kindle and in paperback.
I’m a big fan of dual narratives, but must admit this book was very much a book of two halves for me. I was absolutely entranced by the 1909 story of Guillerme du Frere, leaving his Bordeaux home to work as a railwayman in Paris, and his subsequent involvement with the Patisserie Clermont and the daughter of its owner. It was emotionally involving, achingly sad, with characters who leapt off of the page to win your heart. The book is peppered with wonderful mouth-watering descriptions of the created confectionery, with a well-researched insight into the conditions in the patisserie’s kitchen. Wrapped around it all is a vivid picture of Paris at the time, the bars and seedy brothels, the danger on the streets. My heart was in my mouth at times – the whole story is quite beautifully told, and I loved it.
In a dual narrative, I think it’s always difficult to achieve a balance between a strong historical story and the modern thread. I’m afraid the modern story in this one didn’t really pull me in – I had very little engagement with the characters (I’m not even sure I registered the grand-daughter’s name until quite a way into the book) and really didn’t buy into the feud with the other biographer. While integral to the uncovering of the mystery, but I couldn’t help feeling it could have been done differently – maybe through letters? The one thing I really did like about the modern thread though was that it was set in the 1980s rather than the present day – the availability of the internet and today’s communication would have cut the story rather short, and involved considerably less travel.
Overall though, I have to say that I really, really enjoyed this book: it would most definitely appeal to fans of Lucinda Riley or Kate Morton. In fact, it would appeal to anyone who enjoys a thoroughly enthralling love story, set against a vivid historical backdrop. And cake.
My thanks to netgalley and the publishers for my advance reading e-copy.
After a childhood spent acting professionally and training at a theatre school, Laura Madeleine changed her mind, and went to study English Literature at Newnham College, Cambridge. She now writes fiction, as well as recipes, and was formerly the resident cake baker for Domestic Sluttery. She lives in Bristol, but can often be found visiting her family in Devon, eating cheese and getting up to mischief with her sister, fantasy author Lucy Hounsom. You can find her on Twitter where she rejoices in the wonderful name esthercrumpet.