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Book DetailsISBN: 9780733640025
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Book Review: The French Photographer by Natasha Lester - Reviewed by CloggieA (27 Apr 2019)
5 stars The French Photographer is the fifth novel by best-selling Australian author, Natasha Lester. Art handler and aspiring documentary maker, D’Arcy Hallworth has travelled to France in June 2004 to pack a collection of photographs for exhibition in Australia. D’Arcy has long admired The (anonymous) Photographer’s work, and D’Arcy is sure work of such compassion could only have been done by a woman. At the chateau, Lieu de Réves, D’Arcy encounters The Photographer’s agent, Josh Vaughn, an attractive but very reserved American lawyer.
After some days of writing condition reports and crating, D’Arcy is invited to the attic to examine some boxes of unframed work with Josh, and discovers a photograph dated 1944, with her mother’s name on the back: a man with a young girl. Victorine Hallworth was born and schooled in France before giving birth to D’Arcy in Australia, and has never been very forthcoming about her youth. D’Arcy is understandably intrigued: is this child really her mother? And is Dan Hallworth, Editor in Chief of World Media Group, not just her mother’s boss, but something more?
Jessica May is famous as a model for Vogue, but her ambitions lie with photojournalism. In 1942 Vogue agrees to send her to Europe as their war correspondent, and she is thrilled. She jumps through multiple hoops to finally be approved and is sent to Italy, a field hospital, where she will record the experiences of the war nurses. But she accidentally ends up at the front, in a trench, her report drawing the ire of her London Public Relations Officer. Captain Dan Hallworth sees her to safety and later backs her up, but from then on PRO Warren Stone seems to have Jess in his sights.
Along with the other female correspondents, she’s frustrated by bureaucrats intent on thwarting their attempts to get a story under the guise of “protecting the weaker sex”. They are forbidden to go to the front, they are denied their own transport, they are excluded from Press camps and the work of male correspondents always takes precedence over theirs at the censor. On top of this, Jess is burdened with Warren Stone’s dirty tricks campaign. But at the field hospital she meets little Victorine, Dan Hallworth’s “niece”, and soon there’s a bond of friendship between the three.
The narrative alternates between two time periods and is carried by two main narrators (Jess and D’Arcy) with two minor narrators filling the necessary facts towards the end. Two romantic love stories are told, the first against the background of World War Two, the second involving an intriguing mystery, while a third gets a passing mention.
Lester gives the reader many characters who are appealing and easy to care about, to shed tears for, but also some truly selfish characters who are coldly and calculating and behave shockingly, taking advantage of the goodness and integrity of others. Guilt and shame, but also the wish to save others from heartbreak, mean that secrets are kept and potential happy-ever-afters not realised. And unknowing children are lovingly raised by parents not actually their own.
In her Author Notes, Lester states that this novel was inspired by the true story of American war correspondent for Vogue, Lee Miller. She details her extensive research, noting the many actual events that occur in the narrative, and the story highlights the misogyny and sexual harassment prevalent during the war, as well as the atrocities committed against women, by men on all sides of the conflict. Interesting and moving, this is heart-warming historical fiction. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Hachette Australia.
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