REVIEW: The French Photographer by Natasha Lester

In brief: Jess is a model in New York, but she wants to be something more. So, she heads to Europe during World War II to be a photojournalist, which is not easy. Sixty years later, D’Arcy is preparing for an exhibition of an anonymous photographer. How are they linked?

The good: You can always rely on Natasha Lester for a fantastic read.

The not-so-good: Why does life interrupt me in the middle of an excellent book?

Why I chose it: Loved Natasha Lester’s previous books – thanks to Hachette for the copy.

Year: 2019

Pages: 434 (ARC)

Publisher: Hachette

Setting: France, Germany, Italy and London

Rating: 10 out of 10

The ending of The French Photographer had me at a standstill. It is that powerful. My emotions were in a tangle. I didn’t know whether the cry my heart out with sadness, smile at the happiness for some characters or just collapse in a heap. It is simply a marvellous novel that combines the horrors of war with the dramas of life wrapped up in a beautiful setting (and with quite a few examples of delicious food).

Like Natasha’s past historical novels, The French Photographer has a dual timeline. This time it’s between the early 2000s and 1940s, with D’Arcy and Jess the main characters. Jess is a model who suddenly finds herself out of work when her image is used in a scandalous sanitary product advertisement. Rather than be heartbroken, Jess decides now is the time to do what she’s wanted to do – become a war photojournalist. After numerous hurdles, Jess finds herself ready to go in Europe but the bureaucracy and sexism is just as rampant. Nobody believes that a woman can be a journalist in war conditions and the PR men are out to ensure the female journalists fail. Jess is determined not to, and a meeting with Dan Hallworth and his ward Victorine turns into the best of friendships. As the war continues, Jess learns that nobody is as truthful as they might seem…

Victorine’s daughter, D’Arcy, is an Australian curator who has come to France to package a number of images by an anonymous photographer for exhibition. She’s drifted through life until now, but the beautiful chateau and the mysterious artist’s agent Josh has D’Arcy thinking ahead into the future for the first time. Will the discovery of a family secret ruin everything and cause her to run away?

I’ve deliberately kept my description of the plot very general as not to ruin any of the surprises in store for the reader. As the story progresses, the twists and turns of the plot become as convoluted as the small trees at the chateau that conjure up ghostly shapes. It’s brilliantly plotted, with all the seemingly unrelated threads coming together for a grand finale that will move even the stoniest temperament. The plot and setting also give the modern reader insight into lesser known aspects of the war. I can’t say I knew a lot about female war journalists before reading The French Photographer (nor much about the handling and packing of art)! Since finishing the book, I’ve been reading online about the inspiration for Jess, Lee Miller.

Jess is an impressive character. She’s not perfect by any means as she says what she thinks, often very bluntly. She’s fiercely loyal, yet has a vulnerability that she doesn’t like to show. Jess is the kind of character you want to lead a novel as there will be never a dull moment. D’Arcy was a bit flightier to me, at times I felt she hides herself from the reader to avoid scrutiny. Her growth during the novel was pleasing to see though. As for Dan – well, he’s A Good Man. Solid, dependable and with a sense of humour. What more could you want?

I loved very aspect of The French Photographer. It combines history with a blockbuster of a story. I couldn’t ask for anything more!

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