Review published on January 29, 2018.
In December, 1968, Thomas Harding prepares to travel from Hampstead to Paris for what will be his last visit, taking with him, to re-read, the letters that he and Evie Elliott wrote to each other during the First World War. The book comprises these and other letters, creating, though them, the characters’ aims, ambitions, hopes and fears through the years 1914-1918, when the prospect of their meeting in Paris at Christmas seemed to be a mirage. As Tom and Evie’s relationship develops, we learn more about them and also about the traumas of war for those involved at home and abroad.
It’s a page-turner, with plenty of momentum, attractive characters and enough romance to be engaging without becoming too sentimental. A novel set in WWI can never be jolly, but hope is provided through some of the characters’ own optimism and activities, through poetry, and in the knowledge that Tom does survive.
Evie finds her metier as a journalist, using her skill with words to communicate the awful truth about the conflict, about themes such as shell-shock and how women’s roles can support the war effort. The book demonstrates the importance of letters for communicating ideas and emotions; the written word sometimes enabling people to communicate more readily than in person. There is a careful progression through the book from the tentative friendship with an old friend of her brother Will, through affectionate friendship, to care, admiration and love. The different ‘voices’ in the novel are also skilfully managed, with Evie writing differently to her friend Alice, to her brother and in business letters.
If you’re into romantic historical fiction this will not disappoint. Possibly a good choice for a reading group as a Christmas holiday book – a quick but engaging read at a busy time.
Adie Batt 3/3
Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
William Morrow Paperbacks 9780062562685 pbk Oct 2017