The People in the Photo – Hélène Gestern – 9/10

“Our families’ silence is a poison that infects everything it touches: our dreams, our fears, our entire adult lives. And it leaves us with nothing but questions to fall back on, thirty or forty years down the line.”

people in the photo

From the blurb, because it’s very accurate: Parisian archivist Hélène takes out a newspaper advert seeking information about her mother, who died when she was three, and the two men pictured with her in a photograph taken at a tennis tournament at Interlaken in 1971. Stéphane, a Swiss biologist living in Kent, responds: his father is one of the people in the photo. More letters and more photos pass between them as they embark on a journey to uncover the truth their parents kept from them. But will the images and documents from the past fill the silences left by the players?

The author has given the protagonist her own first name – when that happens, I do have to wonder if it is partly autobiographical (although Hélène is a very pretty name!). Hélène is well captured – gentle, curious, reflective, desperate to unearth her truth but loath to upset others. Obviously a sad childhood. I struggled a little more with Stéphane and actually preferred him when he cracked a bit every now and again. The epistolary style, in a sense, permits very limited development of any other characters, but then the whole book is about piecing together people from several decades ago and Nataliya is revealed little by little. Jean Pamiat, the side-lined friend, is actually my favourite character in the whole book, I think. He’s deliciously omnipresent, and thankfully still alive in the modern time for our detectives to at least visit.

I’ve said it before – I love the epistolary novel. It permits gentle development of the story (and the sub-story – just the right way to deliver that) without being slow. Had it been told another way I might well have thrown the book aside in frustration with the romance and the clunky delivery of the decades-old mystery – but this method was natural and elegant.

For me, the aspect I walk away with is the incredible sadness of the ending. The climax is correctly paced and the puzzle is appropriately concluded, including various characters’ odd behaviour, but this tale of love lost, found and lost again is really very sad in the end. Our characters put a brave face on it but… I would not be so sanguine.

It made me want to learn Russian! And mourn the lost art of the letter. I greatly enjoyed the adventures of Bourbaki the cat as told by Hélène – and the sub-story, which I cannot reveal for spoiler-avoidance reasons, is sweetly developed in the letters.

Additional information:
Copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Publisher: Gallic Books, 265 paperback pages
Order The People in the Photofrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting
About these ads

Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,

5 thoughts on “The People in the Photo – Hélène Gestern – 9/10

  1. Claire 'Word by Word' January 21, 2014 at 7:52 pm Reply

    I am so looking forward to reading this, it sounded like a good book and the 2 reviews I have read now just confirm it.

  2. Jennifer Wallace January 22, 2014 at 2:05 pm Reply

    I have just started reading this book – I’m already looking forward to finding out what happens!

  3. Charlie January 22, 2014 at 7:04 pm Reply

    I like the sound of this a lot. My first thought was about the author’s name. I guess she could just like her name a lot, but it does make you wonder!

    • readingwithtea January 22, 2014 at 8:24 pm Reply

      I like her name, so it’s totally feasible!

  4. […] of Women)20. Becky (Dare to Love Again)21. SmallWorld Reads (When She Woke by Hillary Jordan)22. Yvann@Readingwithtea (The People in the Photo)23. Yvann@Readingwithtea (The Incredible Inheritance of Wilberforce)24. Becky (Pastwatch Redemption […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 645 other followers

%d bloggers like this: