Publication Date: September 20, 2016
At the famous Patisserie Clermont, 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.
The Confectioner's Tale opens with a scene in 1910 Paris where two, as yet unnamed young people, discover the bustling sights, sounds, and tastes of the busy Les Halles market. Their joy and wonder are infectious - and I was immediately smitten with this book. I eagerly devoured all the Parisian chapters about Guillame and Jeanne, partly because they are sumptuous homages to food, especially the art and beauty of pastry-making, and partly because we see everything through Guillame's young eyes - arriving in Paris as a poor railyard worker, becoming enchanted with the Patisserie Clermont, and falling in love for the first time. It is a yearning, bittersweet narrative that captured my heart.
"The food was glorious; it was as if the essence of the world had been captured and infused into this one meal, for this one hour, in this one square of Paris. The boy wondered why it had never tasted this good before."
However, the chapters in 1980s England did not make the same impression on me. Throughout the book I kept wondering what the nexus was between the Paris chapters and the modern ones. I was expecting a brilliant twist but the connection seemed tenuous and a bit of a reach.
Yet, the vividness of the Paris chapters more than made up for the ones set in England. One word of warning: keep something sweet on hand while reading because this book will make your mouth water!
"Mahogany shelves lined the counters, stacked with glass bottles and jars, like something from a fairy tale. There where whole, plump roses steeping in honey; purple-stained sugar, thick with lavender, tiny jars of crimson threads, cherries and peaches suspended in syrup as if they had fallen there from the trees."