Say what you will, Hélène Gestern writes a good page-turner. Narrated in the epistolary form (and translated form the original French), the novel follows the correspondence between the two characters of Hélène and Stéphane, as the former starts to uncover the secrets of her family.
Hélène places a newspaper advert calling for information regarding a photo of her mother with two unknown men. Against the odds, she receives a response from Stéphane and together they begin their intriguing quest of discovery, unearthing many hidden truths along the way. In the process they uncover secrets of their family beyond their wildest imagination and the characters begin to wonder if the finds of their search are becoming too much to handle.
Hélène and Stéphane are both believable and likable, as Gestern introduces them through her elegant prose. One may not have had to endure the scale of their family drama but everyone can relate in some way to the characters’ story.
The book is a wonderful story about the archaeology of memory, rifling through the shadows of the past. What is most striking is the way the people in the photos come to life in the most realistic of ways, the impression of shadows becoming flesh.
The novel encompasses emotions of love, disappointment, secrets and lies; it is beautifully and lyrically written without being overly romantic or sentimental- without a doubt a gripping and compelling read.