Reviewed by Kate Appleton
Hélène Hivert’s childhood in shrouded in mystery and secrets and, in a determined effort to discover the truth of her family, she puts and advert in a newspaper detailing her quest and includes a photo. The photo is an old black and white of her mother and two men at a tennis tournament taken at Interlaken in 1971, and comes to the attention of Stéphane, a Swiss biologist currently working in Ashford, Kent. He has a clue to Hélène’s past, one of the men is his father and the other is his father’s best-friend. By responding to Hélène’s request for information, Stéphane instigates a flurry of written correspondence, via letter, email and text between the two of them. Cataloguing their independent discoveries as they delve into their parents' history and sharing their quest to uncover the truths kept secret from them for their entire lives, they reveal painful memories and develop a bond that will last a lifetime.
The style of this novel is – in a word – beautiful. It works as a dual narrative as we follow the correspondence between Hélène and Stéphane. It’s both the journey of discovery into their parents’ past and the truth of their childhood, but also the progression of their friendship leading irreversibly to companionship. This style of narrative results in the reader getting caught up immediately in the lives of the character and creates a book that is unputdownable. Additionally, in amongst the pages of letters and emails, we are given the odd excerpt describing another photo or document from the time period; this enables you to form an even more detailed picture of the characters.
The denouement of the story gathers pace to the end of the novel with the emergence of letters and diaries being translated and revealing dark secrets in the process. I had a real emotional response to some of the revelations ‘this time all the efforts of silver nitrate, gelatin, developers and paper are useless...that woman was already gone.’ This story doesn’t shy away from unpleasantness and real to the bone drama, pulling on the heartstrings of even the most cynical reader.
This is in reality a love story, but one that delves deeper than your regular cuddly toy happy ending novel – read it now!
Hélène Gestern’s Website