“And now, we are onto our very last book,” there are awws from the audience. “Yes, I know,” says Judith, “and for our final one we are off to Austria for The Empress and the Cake by Linda Stift”

The story of this book is linked to the Austrian Empress Elisabeth – a very glamorous, historical figure, who in Germany and Austria has always been very popular. Empress Elisabeth was immortalised by a series of cheesy movies called Sissie, as that was her nickname, and the German actress who played her said she was haunted for the rest of her life for her role in those cheesy movies.

“I would almost call this a bit of a horror story” Judith says, “but I hope that hasn’t put you off.”

The Empress and the Cake is set in Vienna, which has a reputation for being full of history and mysterious, with some sense of melancholy as well.

The main character has been battling with an eating disorder for her whole life, and she meets an old lady who has a very fat assistant. This old lady is very bossy – you imagine her as an old aristocrat – and she strikes up a conversation with the main character when she invites her over for a piece of cake.

Soon the old lady takes over the young woman’s’ life, and the main character seems unable to say that she wants nothing to do with her. The old woman is obsessed with the Empress Elisabeth, and encourages the main character to carry out all sorts of heists that involve stealing pieces of art relating to the empress.

Food plays a massive part in this book, with the main character’s eating disorder coming back from the stress of the situation the old woman puts her in.

You should know that Empress Elisabeth was famous for being very beautiful and very thin. She had a strict fitness regime, and only ate certain things because she had to maintain her figure. And there were some theories that Elisabeth took control of her looks because everything else in her life was controlled by someone else – her mother-in-law, or her country. And that’s why I was interested in the book. I wanted to know more about this character who has been portrayed up until now in movies and books to be happy and enjoying life, but actually had a hidden story.

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