Scandal & revenge to be be sure, but all fur in photograph is fake.
The Scandalous Life of Sasha Torte
Review by Robyn Walton
THE AUSTRALIAN: Weekend Australian Review
April 1 2017
‘Lesley Truffle’s material girls opt for autonomy’
In her new novel, The Scandalous Life of Sasha Torte, and its recent predecessor Hotel du Barry, Melbourne author Lesley Truffle gives the young female protagonists extraordinary adventures and social mobility. Her humour is droll, her tone arch, her satire pervasive.
Truffle’s novels may be consumed individually but they also work as matching confections. Scenarios set up in the first are renovated in the second, generally to the benefit of psychological motivation, plot momentum and expansion of scope.
Hotel du Barry (2016) is narrated from various points of view, while The Scandalous Life of Sasha Torte, a supposed memoir, is in the first person. Playing with the hypocritical pronouncements of old-school author’s prefaces, Sasha assures readers she will be “as honest as possible” about her “sensual proclivities”.
Those who object should think of her text as a potent champagne punch: “put [it] down slowly and abstain from ever sampling it again”. Or, as readers may recall Peter Carey’s inveterate conman narrator warning at the start of Illywhacker: “Caveat emptor.”
Truffle’s fictions can be seen as elaborate folk or fairytales. She alludes to the Brothers Grimm several times. When I first read Sasha’s account of living voluptuously in jail, occupying a tower sumptuously furnished by a nemesis attempting to assuage his guilt, I was reminded of the pre-World War I environment in which Angela Carter places her protagonist in The Bloody Chamber; Bluebeard’s young bride will learn and survive. Truffle’s books grant her characters wish-fulfilment in climates of abandonment, imposture and recent or imminent war.
A second way of viewing these novels is as performances. Backed by ensemble players, Truffle’s protagonists act out their formative and self-fashioning experiences. There is pageantry as characters show off their extravagances. It isn’t hard to envisage a contemporary Hogarth or Gillray deriving a sequence of urban cartoons from Truffle’s episodes.
The picaro tradition offers a third way of comprehending the trajectories of Truffle’s heroines. The picaresque narrative mode made a comeback in the second half of the 20th century, with screen and stage adaptations and new texts responsive to the increasingly permissive culture of the West. The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders, based on The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, a 1722 fiction attributed to Daniel Defoe, appeared in cinemas in 1965. And in 1991 and again in 2006 another Defoe work, Roxana, aka The Fortunate Mistress, or A History of the Life and Vast Variety of Fortunes of Mademoiselle de Beleau, returned in made-for-television productions.
In local literature, some Australian male authors adopted the picaresque mode in the 1970s and 80s, usually creating male protagonists (David Ireland was an exception). The most successful of these narratives was Illywhacker. Currently Truffle is one of very few authors concocting fantastical prose histories of young women. Krissy Kneen could be considered another. Her blending of science fiction with bildungsroman and literary-inflected erotica in The Adventures of Holly White and the Incredible Sex Machine is not entirely alien to Truffle’s imaginative content, which extends to such surreal scenes as a tango danced in Hades.
The story of Caterina in Hotel du Barry begins in 1919, coincidentally the year of the opening escapade in Illywhacker, and extends to the late 1930s. Truffle’s fictitious London hotel, “an opera of opulent yet intimate pomposity”, is the mothership of a chain built by Daniel du Barry’s father from the profits of brothel-keeping.
When a foundling is discovered, Daniel and his unloving partner in a lavender marriage adopt her, the hotel providing an educative setting for the rearing of the sharp-eyed Cat. With crimes of passion and avarice never too far away, the Hotel du Barry’s detective, the noir-sounding Jim Blade, is kept busy. And when love and the search for her birth mother propel Cat to Paris, she finds it’s another city of superlatives. There is also a death in Venice, with a total of three suspicious deaths of splendid young men suggesting a serial killer is at large.
Sasha’s narrative moves from 1898 through to 1912, traversing times of social and technological change and imperialist expansionism. With her father dead and mother absent, Sasha is reared by her publican grandfather in an imaginary antipodean port. Wolfftown is an amalgam of the lawless wild west frontier communities of American movies, the reckless and piratical culture of maritime trade, and the remote colony run by pseudo-aristocrats, oligarchs and gangs.
Sasha’s initial financial gains require skilful hard work as the proprietor of a baroque-themed patisserie. Free-spirited travels in Europe and Istanbul extend both her worldly education and her opiate addiction. Personal entanglements with a pair of wealthy brothers then lead to Sasha’s wrongful conviction for murder, and she must contrive to escape her prison: “Internment does not become me.”
Truffle’s material girls want to have fun with profits. A mercantile ethos characterises the writer’s London, Paris and Wolfftown, much as it did urban life as Defoe represented it. Alteration and activity are unrelenting, for capitalism must expand to survive. Like those ageing socialists slighted in Edwardian fiction, Sasha’s grandfather is ignored when he recites the motto of the French Revolution.
Truffle’s girls know that those who begin life as different must be ingenious, enterprising and acquisitive. Neither participates in serious crime, so standing apart from anti-heroes who go in for theft, fraud, illegal sex work, child abandonment and even killing in the cause of self-preservation.
Each is a radical conservative, advancing herself hedonistically in libertine fashion within the capitalist milieu, using her wits, applying her creativity, and dispensing charity and sponsorship where she sees need.
An advantageous and loving marriage is a live possibility for each protagonist. However, like Roxana, Truffle’s women are reluctant to relinquish their autonomy and assets. These narratives toy with and partially reject the courtship plot conventionally offered to female readers. They also ask whether the modern woman must behave and think like a man.
Robyn Walton is a writer and critic.
Review by Snow Queen SVT
Book Review for NetGalley Posted October 9 2017
Review by Karen Brooks
Author : The Locksmith’s Daughter.
6 February 2017
The Scandalous Life of Sasha Torte is the fantastically titled second novel by Melbourne-based writer, Lesley Truffle and I have to say, it is unlike any book I have ever read.
Part historical fiction, part-fantastical and whimsical romp, part crime mystery, cooking extravaganza and cautionary fable, it’s also a picaresque novel that tells the tale of the irrepressible Sasha Torte, flame-haired daughter of a murderess and heiress to a bad reputation and melancholy, who becomes not only a world-famous pastry-chef in, of all places, the wilds of Tasmania in the early 1900s, but courts men, drugs and danger with abandon.
Told with Truffle’s wonderful flair, at first I wasn’t sure what to make of a book that opens with the heroine in a luxuriously appointed prison accused of murder. Deciding to pen her memoirs, Sasha then takes the reader back through her childhood, revealing how she grew up in a brutal and unconventional family surrounded by dedicated servants and a doting grandfather. As she matures, she learns to deal with nepotism, bullying, the cruelty of strangers and their kindness in equal measure. When her Aunt Lily enters her life, she finds a soul-mate and confidant to whom she can also aspire.
Launched into the society that wants to reject her, but finds they’re unable to resist her, the beautiful Sasha appears set to conquer not only men, but the globe.
But in earning devotion, Sasha also attracts enmity, even from those who purport to love her and it’s when the handsome Dasher brothers enter her sphere that trouble for Sasha and those she cares about looms large and deadly.
Featuring wilful, sassy and smart women, dedicated and dastardly men, horses, dogs, a psychic goldfish (no, I’m not kidding) ghosts, gangs, and, of course, amazing confectionary and pastries, this novel is fast-paced, enormous fun and heart-aching at the same time. Able to transport you from the docks of fictitious and rough Wolfftown, to parties on wealthy estates, then sail you to London (where the Hotel Du Barry has a cameo role), Paris, Vienna and beyond, you find yourself captivated by Sasha – honest, steadfast and fair – as you ride the roller-coaster of her full and often tragic life.
For all its fantastical elements, the book coheres into a luminous whole, an adventure and story like no other that you feel the richer and more fulfilled for reading. Like one of Sasha’s sweet creations, it lingers in your mouth, head and heart long after you’ve finished it. Quite simply, it’s so completely different and a real treat.
My notes on the writing of The Scandalous Life of Sasha Torte
I first came up with the idea of the world-famous pastry chef, Sacha Torte when I attended a raucous Melbourne playhouse to see a fringe theatre play. My friends and I were half-cut on Russian vodka, so I can’t remember too much about the play – except for an extraordinary large spoon wielded by one of the players. I couldn’t stop thinking about the absurdity of the goddamn spoon. It haunted me.
A few days later when I was waiting to be served in a terribly chic cake shop, I admired the magnificent gateaux on display and decided to name my pâtissière Sacha Torte. It’s a sly homage to the sublime chocolate cake known as Sachertorte. This cake was invented by 16-year-old Austrian apprentice, Franz Sacher, in 1832 for Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich in Vienna. Accordingly the Sachertore has both pedigree and heritage.
Eventually I came up with the idea for a comedic theatre piece set in Tasmania and this play evolved into my novel, The Scandalous Life of Sasha Torte. Sasha experienced such a discordant, strange childhood that she’s become a rebellious maverick, wilfully choosing her own path to infamy.
Sasha Torte’s birthplace, Wolfftown, is a gun slinging town peopled by gangs, wild women and reckless men. Wolfftown looks out over the Southern Ocean, magnificent mountains and unyielding wilderness. It was founded by morally ambiguous folk – siblings Emerl and Marigold Wolff – and nourished and nurtured by all the available vices of the time.
I wanted Sasha’s fictitious hometown to be realistic in terms of location, so I made two road trips to Tasmania. I eventually decided Wolfftown would be situated on the wild, wild West Coast. I wanted it to have affinity with tales of America’s wild west in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. I was thinking it should be a fusion between an Australian country town and the type of rural outpost featured in Italian Westerns where anything is possible, and the denizens of the town are up for all manner of criminal activity.
I’ve always been fascinated by the films made by director Sergio Leone in the 1960’s such as The Good, the bad and the Ugly or A Fistful of Dollars. Evil can be extremely laconic and attractive. It need not necessarily be a mutation of anger, greed, hatred, immorality or social dysfunction.
Sometimes evil just is.
In the winter of 1912 on the wild West Coast of Tasmania, Wolfftown’s most notorious heiress and murderess, Sasha Torte, tells the tale of her spectacular downfall.
Forsaken by her parents and raised by criminals and reprobates, Sasha becomes a world-famous pastry chef at the tender age of seventeen. Entanglement with the disreputable Dasher brothers leads to love, but also to a dangerous addiction.
Behind bars in Wolfftown’s gaol, Sasha sips premium champagne as she recalls a life of seduction, betrayal, ghosts, opium and an indiscreet quantity of confectionary – and plots her escape.
The Scandalous Life of Sasha Torte: revenge, redemption and pastry is a novel of intrepid protagonists, dark villains, wild gangs, luxurious hotels … and murder.
See Harper Collins Australia blog to read sample chapters (& author’s personal reflection, Dancing with the Devil).
I was raised in a godless Melbourne household. We were supposedly Church of England but never went to church, said grace or possessed a family bible. However, my mother did entertain the local vicar…
See More for author’s guest posts, radio interviews and events.
Hotel du Barry
Review by Karen Brooks
Author: The Locksmith’s Daughter
15 March 2016
Urged to read Hotel Du Barry by Lesley Truffle by a dear friend, she began telling me a little about the book in order to persuade me. She had me sold when she described the opening scene (this isn’t a spoiler, either, because it’s part of the blurb) where a baby is found hanging on the clothesline of a chic hotel in London during the 1930s. What’s not to love about such a gloriously unusual beginning?
Just who the chortling baby’s mother might be is uncertain – never mind her father. Enchanted by the splendid little girl, the hotel staff determine to keep her. When the owner of the place, Daniel Du Barry, who is grieving the loss of his lover, discovers the child, he too falls under her spell.
Naming her Cat, after his favourite bottle of champagne, Daniel is captivated. Unfortunately his new wife, Eddie, sister of his lover is not, but she’s forced to tolerate this child everyone else adores – the clever little girl with violet eyes and the propensity to fall asleep at the most inopportune moments – or is it only in Eddie’s presence? Over the years, Cat grows into a charming and talented young woman, as comfortable with the luxury of the penthouse as she is with the maids and various staff below stairs. Raised on a diet of classic and modern art, music, great (and sometimes inappropriate for her age) literature, as well as gossip, the sexual high-jinks, drug-taking and alcoholism of her step-mother and dirty habits of too many hotel guests, Cat isn’t at all damaged by what she bears witness to – she has her insatiable curiosity piqued again and again and her zest for life and people grows.
When, however, tragedy strikes her rather charmed existence, Cat decides to get to the bottom of not only the mystery surrounding the death of loved ones, but to also find her mother. Drawing on the help of her all too eager hotel family, together they plumb the depths and scale the heights of the hotel and its associates searching for answers… answers that not only take her beyond English shores, but prove dangerous to find…
This is a delicious romp filled with such memorable characters, witty, snippy asides that had me laughing out loud, heartfelt scenes that make your soul ache, and characters you want to sit back and swill gin with. The tone is marvellous – light and yet not at the expense of beautiful writing or deeper meaning. It’s so very different to the kind of books I’ve been reading lately and utterly refreshing. What I also found really stimulating was the fact that not all threads are neatly tied together at the end of the story. Truffle (what a great name) allows the reader to make their own minds up about some of the characters’ pasts and, indeed, their futures beyond the pages of the book and I simply loved that.
This is a sizzler of a read that I cannot recommend highly enough for those who love to be emerged in a past they can smell, see, feel and taste, like a good mystery packed to the brim with three-dimensional characters with personalities you love and loathe, or for those who simply enjoy great writing.
Unexpected and simply delightful.
‘This is a delicious romp filled with such memorable characters, witty, snippy asides that had me laughing out loud, heartfelt scenes that make your soul ache, and characters you want to sit back and swill gin with. The tone is marvellous – light and yet not at the expense of beautiful writing or deeper meaning. It’s so very different to the kind of books I’ve been reading lately and utterly refreshing.’
Review from Times Live: March picks from Kerre McIvor
‘Set in the inter-war period, when Europe tried to drink, dance and bonk their cares away, this marvellously lush novel evokes all the spirit of the Jazz Age.The cast of characters are wonderful and Truffle brings all the mad passion of the times to life on the page. A fun read.’
My notes on the writing of the Hotel du Barry
When I start writing a story or a novel I usually begin with a single image and in this case it came from reading a non-fiction description of busy, impoverished mothers in the 1930’s – somewhere hot and humid in America – pegging their youngest babies onto the clothesline. It kept them out of harm’s way and let them wriggle around freely, enjoying the occasional cool breeze wafting over the landscape.
Perched on a bar stool later that night – drinking vodka with a lovesick male buddy who was hell bent on staying liquored up the whole weekend – my mind wandered. And an image came to me of a plump, chortling baby being surreptitiously pegged to the clothesline of a luxury hotel. And with only one ear on the tragic tale of woe being told, I found myself grinning somewhat inappropriately.
At that stage I couldn’t see who was doing the pegging but the image stayed with me, along with the insight that women do the darndest things when they’re pushed to extremes by their wayward lovers.
In the days that followed I created London’s Hotel du Barry:
At night it was floodlit and fiery; a flamboyant mishmash of Italianate and Venetian architecture, with a few quirky Renaissance and classic Greek elements added on. As a wedding cake, it was an architectural masterpiece of reckless proportions.
And from these beginnings came the devious but charming characters who lived and worked at the hotel and the strange, sinister and unpredictable events that eventuate.
I do hope the Hotel du Barry makes you smile. Martinis will be flung in faces, reputations savaged and there will be murder, deception and mayhem. You’re in for a wild trip but rest assured you are in capable hands. Just stay on your toes and do not get caught peeking through keyholes. For if you do the hotel dick Jim Blade will have to extract your confession and as you will discover he’s never half assed about anything.
Many of the Hotel du Barry clientele stay from months or sometimes years. And who knows? Like many guests you may never want to leave.
The image of gargoyles (above) is from the cover of Hotel du Barry designed and illustrated by Hazel Lam, Harper Collins Design Studio. Cover images by shutterstock.com
Hotel du Barry is nine floors of wickedness, jealousies, aberrant desires and murderous intent. It’s The Grand Budapest Hotel with a dash of The Great Gatsby.
Having witnessed the end of World War One and glimpsed the Grim Reaper rushing past, folk at London’s Hotel du Barry are hell bent on celebrating life.
Plotting, manipulation and scheming are de rigeur at the Hotel du Barry. And the owner, Mr Daniel du Barry, often suspects that his loyal staff are up to no good. He’s right. And what Daniel doesn’t know, he can always find out from the hotel dick, Mr Jim Blade.
Security is a high priority at the Hotel du Barry, which is just as well given that many strange, sinister and unpredictable events are about to unfold. Martinis will be flung in faces, reputations savaged and there will be murder, deception, greed and mayhem.
Hotel du Barry & The Scandalous Life of Sasha Torte are available from:
Bookstores such as Dymocks or Independent bookshops such as Readings, The Avenue (Melbourne), Harry Hartog (NSW & ACT).
Harper Collins Publishers: http://www.harpercollins.com.au/9781460751435/hotel-du-barry
Amazon Australia: https://www.amazon.com.au
** also available online at: Book Depository, The Nile, Angus & Robertson Bookworld, Boomerang Books.
International orders including USA
Hotel du Barry published by Harper Collins Australia in English: it is available as an eBook, audio recording (Bolinda Audio) and in large print. Hotel du Barry has also been published in Europe by Harper Collins: it is available in German (hardback), Italian (paperback) and Spanish (paperback).
Bolinda Audio: The Hotel du Barry complete and unabridged & narrated by English actress Willow Nash. http://www.bolinda.com
The Scandalous Life of Sasha Torte is also available as an ebook and an audio recording (Bolinda Audio).
Bolinda Audio: The Scandalous Life of Sasha Torte, complete and unabridged & narrated by Australian actress Caroline Lee. http://www.bolinda.com