About The Book
Until she knows her husband’s fate, she cannot decide her own…
An epic debut novel of forbidden love, loss, and the shattered hearts left behind in the wake of World War I.
1921. Families are desperately trying to piece together the fragments of their broken lives. While many survivors of the Great War have been reunited with their loved ones, Edie’s husband Francis has not come home. He is considered ‘missing in action’, but when Edie receives a mysterious photograph taken by Francis in the post, hope flares. And so she beings to search.
Harry, Francis’s brother, fought alongside him. He too longs for Francis to be alive, so they can forgive each other for the last things they ever said. Both brothers shared a love of photography and it is that which brings Harry back to the Western Front. Hired by grieving families to photograph gravesites, as he travels through battle-scarred France gathering news for British wives and mothers, Harry also searches for evidence of his brother.
And as Harry and Edie’s paths converge, they get closer to a startling truth.
An incredibly moving account of an often-forgotten moment in history, The Photographer of the Lost tells the story of the thousands of soldiers who were lost amid the chaos and ruins, and the even greater number of men and women desperate to find them again.
Way, way back when I did my English Literature degree I did a module on World War 1 and its aftermath. I read poetry and fiction that encapsulated the era and it fostered a real love of historical fiction in me. Since then I seem to have read a lot of books about the Second World War but appear to have seriously neglected the period in time before then. This has changed however with my latest read, The Photographer of The Lost by Caroline Scott, a beautiful and sweeping novel set in the early 1920s in England, France and Belgium.
This is both a multi person and dual timeline novel about two people whose lives were changed forever by the Great War. Edie Blythe is living alone in the house which belongs to her husband’s family but is now filled with ghosts, absences and memories. Her husband, Francis went to war with his brothers Harry and Will but only has Harry returned. She opens a door and expects to see her husband or one of his brothers sitting at a table, their photos line the mantelpiece and their bedrooms are waiting for their return. Harry has found himself unable to return home, desperately in love with his late brother’s wife he prefers to roam France and Belgium photographing war graves for the relatives of fallen soldiers. When a photograph of Francis arrives at Edie’s house she is shocked – she saw him a month before he died when he was home on leave and he looks much, much older in the image. Is Francis still alive? If so, where is he and why hasn’t he come home?
What follows is a haunting and beautiful novel where Edie is propelled into action and takes herself to the battlefields of France and Belgium in search of her husband. We watch as she visits towns and villages where her husband and his brothers once fought, she walks down streets which are still strewn with debris from bombing and she passes buildings which still bear the bullet wounds from gun fire. The devastation of the war is laid bare in unflinching detail and it makes for emotional reading.
Interspersed with this are Harry’s chapters where he too is travelling to the same towns and villages. For him though, these visits are to places he has been before. Each corner holds a memory of a time where he and his brothers were hunkered down in a trench as shells and mortar passed over their heads and of the quiet occasions where he would sketch and Francis would take photographs. Harry’s memories and recollections are some of the saddest things I have ever read – they’re almost too sombre to bear.
I was seriously affected by the scale of the devastation and the long lasting effects depicted in the novel. There are lots of references to the length of time it will take to recover, of soldiers still lost, decades of work ahead to unpick the knots and get back to some sort of normality. There are rooms filled with the belongings of soldiers and wives search through box after box of spectacles looking for a pair that may have belonged to their husbands. There are graveyards with white crosses as far as the eye can see and many, many men still missing. I found it unbearable seeing the sadness and devastation and the work undertaken to fix it knowing that in a few years it would happen all over again.
Whilst both Edie and Harry are searching for Francis, they are ultimately looking for themselves too. The war has changed them both and they are yearning for the people they once were. I wanted to hug Harry whose life is spent trying to atone for his actions, wandering the land photographing graveyards and fields. He is lonely, driven by loss and grief and the guilt that he feels for the loving his brother’s wife.
It did take me a little while to get into this book as I found the multi-person and time jumps a little jarring but once I was in I was fully connected. It is hauntingly beautiful and quietly powerful. It needs some dedicated reading time so you can become fully immersed and fall in love with Harry and Edie. It is an accomplished debut which examines a time period that is often overlooked and deftly communicates the scale of loss and sacrifice that was made. I highly recommend it.
About The Author
Caroline completed a PhD in History at the University of Durham. She developed a particular interest in the impact of the First World War on the landscape of Belgium and France, and in the experience of women during the conflict – fascinations that she was able to pursue while she spent several years working as a researcher for a Belgian company. Caroline is originally from Lancashire, but now lives in southwest France.
Where You Can Buy It
My thanks to the publisher Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of this book via Netgally and thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours.
The Photographer of the Lost by Caroline Scott was published on the 31st October and is available in both hardcover and ebook.