Christmas rolled by with a fabulous surprise package from Gallic Books. I love this publisher. As well as being a teensy bit of a Francophile (although I should admittedly make the effort to read these novels in the original language) the work they’re making available to the English-speaking public always seems to be so fresh and interesting. Just the ticket to distract me from the grim weather outside.
Stumbling across Hélène Gestern’s The People in the Photo in pride of place in Waterstones I felt a flush of excitement that I’d experienced this book already. Ahead of the curve for once Lucy … what’s going on!?
This intriguing little novel is a bit of a detective tale-cum-family history-cum-romance. After discovering an old photograph of her mother in tennis whites along with two mysterious men, Parisian archivist Hélène places an advert in the paper in the hope of discovering more. Swiss scientist Stéphane replies; one of the men in the photograph is his father.
What follows is a series of letters, emails and texts unraveling the mystery of Hélène and Stéphane’s parents’ lives within the Russian expat community. A touching tale of past romances and woes and a veritable Pandora’s box of secrets that leave the astonished pair heartbroken. As their own present-day relationship escalates into something more than they ever could have imagined, we delve deep into a family drama of the highest order.
I really enjoyed this book. The letter/message format keeps the story unfolding at a steady pace and Emily Boyce and Ross Schwartz’s translation is natural, modern, readable and, I imagine, entirely faithful to the original. Although it may verge on the overly soppy and sentimental as we delve deeper into the story (and as you know, I don’t swoon!) this is, general speaking, a delicate, realistic glimpse into the private thoughts and feelings of two individuals, individuals who end up feeling like real people. Believable, agreeable characters sit nicely within vivid prose, particularly the superb descriptions of old photographs that bring this complex jigsaw puzzle to life. I was completely engrossed and, needless to say, couldn’t write such a thoughtfully plotted-out, impelling story to save my life. Simply great stuff.
NB: To all those folk out there who are as absent-minded as I am and prone to skim-reading, Stéphane is a MAN. His name is not StéphanIE and this is not the tale of some gently blossoming female friendship. It was only when the hints of ‘sexy time’ started to rear their head that I suddenly realised the error of my ways and had to completely readjust my mind’s eye. HA! Deary me…
my old camera by Michael Stolz via Flickr