The Scandalous Life of Sasha Torte: Revenge, redemption…and pastry
HarperCollins, RRP $32.99
Any book that features a silhouetted, bodice-clad beauty spilling seductively out of a cupcake on the cover has a good chance of getting my attention. So when The Scandalous Life of Sasha Torte landed on my doorstep, I was intrigued. (It helped that the author’s previous book was the delightful Hotel du Barry – in itself a recommendation to read on to the author’s next story.)
Firstly, there’s the title. A Sacher Torte, from which our heroine’s name is derived, is a much-revered Viennese chocolate cake, created in 1832 for an Austrian prince. Rich, dense and utterly sacred in its home town, the Sacher Torte is so coveted that not only is the original recipe still a closely-guarded secret at the Sacher Hotel in Vienna, but there is even a Sacher Torte Day, on December 5th.
In this sensual delight of a second novel by author Lesley Truffle (again – it’s all in the name), Sasher – Sacha – is pretty much the female embodiment of the decadent cake that creates as much noise around its history as it does its taste. Set in Tasmania in 1912, this sensual book begins by introducing us to Sacha as she reclines in utter splendour and luxury – in jail, where she has been convicted of murder. Locked up and deprived of her freedom, Sasha spends her days drinking the best wines and champagnes, eating delicacies hand-picked for her by suitors who attend to her every need. Her only roommate is a psychic goldfish called Alphonse, who knows far more than he is letting on.
The Scandalous Life of Sacha Torte is a sensually and imaginatively entertaining lapdance of Tasmanian history, seduction, debauchery, revenge, addiction, fantasy and patisserie. After a traumatic and unhappy childhood, Sacha rips herself free of her past to become a world-famous pastry chef at just seventeen. But Tasmania in the early 20th century is a place where civilisation teeters precariously on the edge of abandoned chaos and violence, and Sacha has to use all her wiles, and her considerable intelligence, to hold her own against the dangerous Dasher family and the pitfalls that lie along her way.
Sacha is capricious and exhausting, while being vulnerable and surprisingly relatable. She is undyingly loyal to her loved ones, and even as she sinks into the throes of helpless addiction, it’s hard not to fall a little in love with this crazily colourful character who treats chocolate and champagne with a lustful vivacity that draws you into her fantasy, to the point that Alphonse’s psychic premonitions seem all too plausible to dismiss.
There are plenty of laughs in the book – the Dasher Estate Winter Ball created a picture in my mind that won’t easily be forgotten – but for me, this book was a sensory overload of just how intimately entwined food can be with our primal instincts and desires. I’m ready for my next course please, Lesley.