Hachette Australia 2019
The French Photographer is the fourth of Natasha Lester’s historical fiction novels. Like the previous book, The Paris Seamstress, it has historical and contemporary story lines running parallel and intersecting.
The story begins in New York in 1942 with fashion model and our future war photojournalist heroine Jessica May. It moves to the European war front and the focus is then strongly on both the horrors of war and the extraordinary efforts of women like her to be allowed to operate in an arena previously reserved for men. Much of the future action shines a light on the effects of war on women, whether it be as professional correspondents or as victims of war atrocities.
The parallel modern-day tale is the story of D’Arcy, an art handler who finds herself in France engaged in sorting and packing a collection of photographs by a reclusive artist known only as ‘The Photographer’, whose work is to be exhibited in the Art Gallery of NSW.
The secrets of family histories are gradually unwound as the people of the book search for resolution of life-long losses and loves.
Natasha Lester has researched extensively in preparing for this book; her central character was based upon the life and work of war correspondent and photographer Lee Miller whose oeuvre was only brought to light after her death. Other women writers and photographers of the time also informed the story and many of the incidents in the book. The author also stayed in a couple of French chateaux and visited Normandy to flesh out her own experience during her researches. Gosh, someone’s got to do it!
The book is a passionate story, passionately told and continues Natasha Lester’s deep interest in the struggles of strong women for equality and respect. There are equal parts of romance and horror here and readers will find much to send them to their own reading of history of a period much documented but usually from a masculine and military point of view. The author has not shied away from difficult parts of our history and neither should we.
Those in the southern NSW region may wish to check the Storyfest Milton program, where Natasha Lester and Lauren Chater will be speaking at a dinner on Friday 21 June at Tallwood restaurant Mollymook. They discuss what it is about setting stories in the past that draws them and how they uncover the rich detail that enriches their tales. See https://www.storyfest.org.au/
Natasha Lester is at https://www.natashalester.com.au/