Thursday 1 May 2014

The People in the Photo by Hélène Gestern

The People in the Photo is Hélène Gestern's first novel to be published in English. Originally released in France under the title Eux sur la Photo, this is a book that has racked up over 20 literary awards. The English version that I read, published by Gallic Books, sports a quote from La Magazine Littéraire on the front cover; 'A wonderful book about the archaeology of memory'. and that pretty much nails the theme.

In a nutshell, the story starts out with Stéphane Crusten's response to an ad placed by Hélène Hivert who is seeking information about a picture of a woman and two men from a previous generation. It comes to pass that two of the people in the photo are Hélène's mother and Stéphane's father. The twist is that both Hélène and Stéphane's respective parents from the photo are dead, and that Hélène has never met her mother. And so, the mystery plot thickens... The pair continue their correspondence so that the novel becomes an epistolary (it's practically a dialogic or two-way epistolary, except for the introduction of three other POVs towards the end of the book) that builds to an emotional crescendo seamlessly.

This, obviously, is a book that's somewhat outside of the normal scope of this blog, but as a writer, I feel reading outside of your chosen genre can only strengthen your skills. Plus, I'm 'in conversation' with Hélène Gestern tomorrow night (Friday 2nd May at 6.30pm at No Alibis in Belfast), and figured this blog post would make for a nice warm-up.

So, the CSNI verdict? The People in the Photo is an engaging and thought-provoking read that worked incredibly well within the confines of the epistolary form. Gestern puts meat on the bones of the skeletons in her characters’ closets. A masterclass in imagery.

If you want to know more, and you're within travelling distance of Belfast, come to the event! Details can be found here.

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