It is March 1980, and Petra Stevenson has been struggling to complete her thesis in Cambridge. She comes across a biography being written about her grandfather, J. G. Stevenson, when she discovers that this biography less of a biography more of an attempt to scandal monger. There is something in his past that she had been unaware of, something for which he seems to have been desperately apologetic. Desperate to prevent the efforts to tarnish her beloved grandfather’s memory, she starts digging into the past.
Petra is consumed by the mystery and the need to ensure that her grandfather is not maligned, she refuses to believe that he grandfather would do something dishonorable, but does she really know her grandfather? If he were so honorable, why is there a photograph of her grandfather with two others in front of the Patisserie Clermont? Why did he write ‘Forgive Me’ on the back of the photograph? Petra’s thesis and academic career are all ignored as she goes hunting.
In 1909, Guillaume du Frere found himself forced to leave Bordeaux and move to Paris to find a way of making money. That was the only way he could support himself and his widowed mother. With no money for even food, Gui and his friend Nicolas, survived the journey and managed to land themselves a job in the railways.
A chance encounter with the daughter of the owner of the famous Patisserie Clermont, gives Gui a glimpse into a life he couldn’t even have dreamt about. He gets a chance to deliver supplies to the bakery. Not only is he captivated by the beautiful Jeanne Clermont, he is equally captivated by the life in the bakery. The art of shaping gorgeous, melt in the mouth delicacies, the fragrances that dominate, the sweet smell of sugar, the heady smell of chocolate, everything seems magical to him. Fate gives him an opportunity to work in the bakery, and he soon discovers that not only is he unusually talented at baking, he thoroughly enjoys it too. To add to his joy, Jeanne is also equally captivated by him.
Life is as good as it could get for Gui and Jeanne. As all good things, the good times don’t last and reality and life is about to take over. At some point, Petra’s grandfather’s path crossed Gui and Jeanne. How and what exactly happened is something Petra must find out, if she wants to keep her grandfather’s memory untarnished, convinced as she is that he certainly wasn’t capable of doing things he was being accused of.
A beautiful book. The author did a beautiful job detailing Paris of 1909, the lives of Gui and Jeanne, expertly bringing out the differences in their circumstances. Gui, cold, hungry and desperate, Jeanne, living in the lap of luxury, never having known the lack of anything, and yet desperate in her own way. I particularly like books where the atmosphere, the times that the characters are based in, is brought out so well. Petra’s circumstances and situation was equally well portrayed. One can feel her anguish, the need to prove the biographer wrong, knowing that her grandfather was being maligned just for the sake of publicity, while knowing that she really didn’t have the luxury of time to investigate, knowing that she was being foolhardy to pursue this, when she had been warned of the consequences of her actions on her academic career.
The story, for me was as much about Petra as it is about Gui, the confectioner. While on about confectioners, the descriptions of pastry being made, made me want to bake. I had to stop myself from looking up the recipe of religieuse. A beautiful book, one that I could recommend to so many people, those who like a good historical fiction, those who like food writing, or just those who like a good descriptive book with a great plot. A 4.5/5 read for me.
On a side note, did you like the cover? I loved it! It was the cover that drew me to the book in the first place. And I’m glad it did too!
Thank you Netgalley and the publishers for the ARC of this book.
About the Author
The Confectioner’s Tale is author Laura Madeleine’s debut book.
This book is available from Amazon(UK).