What do you do when you can’t sleep? Why, read of course! And what better book to have started and now finished within a couple of days than The French Photographer. I’ve read all of Natasha Lester’s books and this is by far the best, although personally, A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald is a close contender.
Reading The French Photographer so soon after Anzac was a bit raw for me, although I must add, that simply confers how vivid the wartime imagery is. And not only the war-front scenes. In this novel, each scene and setting comes alive as if it were a character itself, like the beautiful trees near the chateau. I’d love to know how Natasha could see so many beautiful flowers in the French landscapes and bring them to life as she has. Perhaps it is an advantage of live research.
There’s a lot to respond to throughout the story. Specific scenes, like the haunting early morning Easter service; the vivid setting of the chateau so beautifully captured and much broader scapes, like the devastation of war bleeding through France.
And the themes – the fight for women’s rights – a theme through each of Natasha’s books; this time for the rights for women to go to the battlefront in the same way as men did to report on the war; as well as the traditional romantic elements of love and loss which tug on the full range of emotions. Actual and imagined fears of losing a loved one are played out throughout the story, leaving the reader needing a box of tissues nearby. The ending is quite emotionally brutal and will haunt me for some time.
I found the quotes used for each part pertaining to Jess so very apt; they add insight into the emotional dilemmas of the time, especially the fallout from war, as well as insights into the art of photography.
The dual narrative of two different times was, on Natasha Lester’s own admission (see her Author’s Note at the end of the story), a challenge to manage. With so many characters involved, I must say that it was handled so well, I had no difficulty in following the narrative.
In summary, I loved Jess. A tough woman. Without giving the story away, a take away thought was not to be too hard on self for all that goes down. In a characteristic plot redemption, there is beauty to balance the emotional brutality of loss and heartache.
On a different note, after attending the recent event, Botanica Books in Bars, it was interesting to hear the background to the story first hand, as Tess Woods interviewed Natasha Lester. Of course, it was irresistible and a pleasure to chat briefly at the end of the session, over book signing.
Images of Notre Dam and the Eiffel Tower taken by the writer, Susan Dunn, in 2007.