Publisher: Gallic Books (17 Feb 2014)
Parisian archivist Hélène knows very little about her mother, Nathalie, who died when she was four. In the hope of learning more, she places a newspaper advert calling for information on Nathalie and two unknown men pictured with her at a tennis tournament in 1971. Against the odds, she receives a response from Stéphane, a Swiss biologist: his father is one of the people in the photo. More letters, and more photos, pass between them, in an attempt to unearth the truth their parents kept from them. But as they piece together events from the past, will they discover more than they can actually deal with? Winner of seventeen literary awards, this dark yet moving drama, deftly explores the themes of blame and forgiveness, identity and love.
I am one of those people who loves to look (and I mean really look) at photos. I enjoy looking at the light and shade, body language, expressions, where they are and imagining that moment in time and how it fits into their lives. This is how The People in The Photo begins – with a description encompassing all of the things above (and the same with the other photos unearthed in Helene and Stephane’s family history search). I knew straight away I was going to enjoy this story!
Beginning with a letter in response to the advert, we watch Helene and Stephane’s intimacy grow – from the very formal then changing as they gradually get to know each other. Letters lead to emails, postcards, texts, phone calls and then meeting up in person as they try to uncover more about Helene’s mother and where Stephane’s family fit into it all.
I enjoyed the structure of the story and the intrigue of each piece of the puzzle they uncover. A dying woman’s enigmatic last words and the things she leaves for Helene plus family friend Pierre’s journal written in Russian, lead them forward. For three years I traced mine and my OH’s family tree. Secrets uncovered have had an effect on those living so although this is a work of fiction, it is something that could be very real. As with Helene and Stephane, even the past we haven’t been involved with directly, affects our now and future.
The People in the Photo is an emotional read. I found it easy to identify with the characters (despite the story being told in letters/emails etc). Nathalie’s story is heart breaking. Decisions made by others may not necessarily be the correct ones and instead of protecting, may have the opposite effect …
I would like to thank the publishers for providing a proof copy in exchange for an honest review.