When the proof copy of The Photographer of the Lost by Caroline Scott arrived wrapped in brown paper and string, I knew this book was going to be different. I wasn’t wrong.
The Photographer – The Blurb
“Until she knows her husband’s fate, she cannot decide her own…
An epic novel of forbidden love, loss, and the shattered hearts left behind in the wake of World War I
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.”
Up close and personal
I was attracted to The Photographer originally as one of the lead character’s names is also the name of one of my children. However I didn’t expect to see the poem used at my wedding being quoted to said character in the book! Last summer we drove past the War Graves referred to in the book, Durham Cathedral (also referenced), is my local cathedral and so for lots of reasons this book felt very personal to me. Anyone else get that sometimes?
What happened after
I’ve never really given much thought as to what happened after the Great War. Those 21 years between WW1 and WW2. Yet Scott paints a vivid picture of life in the early aftermath. All those bodies. How on earth can anyone identify them? All that devastation. With which brick do you start clearing up first? How does a single blade of grass ever shoot from so much bloodshed? Scott made me question all of this. I often felt distraught by the picture she painted of the enormity faced by the French and the lengths people were forced to go to. To think they had to rebuild only to go through it again so soon thereafter.
What really hit home was the pain felt by those who just didn’t know what had happened to their loved ones, those deemed ‘Missing In Action’. Time and again Scott would highlight how does one cope with the not knowing? Is it better to know they are dead? Can you at least then start to move on? Harry’s job as a photographer of war graves was questionable but I can certainly understand people’s need to have some concrete evidence, some closure.
In amongst all of this was Francis, the missing brother of Harry and husband of Edie. The reveal of his fate was expertly delivered. Was he alive? Was he dead? Would Edie ever really believe it unless she saw a grave? The outcome certainly kept me guessing and gave me a little taste of the frustrations felt by not knowing.
His brother’s wife
I loved the relationship between Harry and Edie. It must have been very tricky to write about a man’s love for his brother’s wife yet Scott walked the fine line perfectly. Too much one way and you would have been routing for Francis as the wronged party. Too much the other way and you wouldn’t have cared so much about their entanglement or appreciated how important Francis’ fate was to their happiness. I so wanted them to be together, to be happy!
My thanks go to Simon and Schuster via the Random Things Blog Tours for a copy of The Photographer of the Lost in exchange for an honest review. It is the best book I have read all year. I got to page 400 (of 500) and didn’t want it to end. Yet I was glued and couldn’t stop reading. A love story, an impossible task, a devastating account of the aftermath of World War 1. All this from a debut novel – astounding.
The Photographer of The Lost is published on 31st October 2019. If you need something to tide you over until then have a look at another one of our Read of the Year contenders also about WW1 The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay.