Last Christmas in Paris: A Novel of World War I by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
William Morrow Paperbacks, 2017. Trade paperback, 400 pages.
Told via letters, Last Christmas in Paris is far from a holiday story. The title refers to a promise made at the novel’s start. Starting in 1914, readers will be experiencing the correspondence of Evie Elliott and Thomas Harding. The pair grew up together along with Evie’s brother Will and friend Alice. Both of the latter make appearance in writing letters as well, especially Alice. As the war goes on, the correspondence between Evie and Thomas increases and they grow closer. However, will they ever see themselves as more than just friends?
Meanwhile, each character also faces his or her struggles. Thomas faces tough decisions and battle fatigue. Evie struggles to become more independent than her overbearing mother would like and secretly takes up a career as a women’s columnist. Will finds himself falling hopelessly in love. And Alice learns the art of nursing.
Additionally, the novel is divided into section, each based on a year of correspondence. At the start of each is a narrative from an older Thomas in the late 1960s as he rereads the collective correspondence of the war years.
As a whole, there was quite a bit going on in this novel. As the fictional letters showed, there were acts of war and domestic actions to discuss and I often found that because of all the specifics, I had a hard time connecting to the characters. That said, I do think that the writing duo’s details about the era helped to ground the novel historically. Nor did they shrink from depicting issues that were not spoken of in that era and showing how those issues affected the people involved, whether that is for better or worse. And there were many powerful emotions and vivid descriptions throughout. As far as Gaynor’s works are concerned (I have not read anything else by Webb), I much preferred The Girl Who Came Home: A Novel of the Titanic which excellently showed the experiences for a third class passenger and provoked an enlightening book club discussion on class and immigration.
Do you think you will read this novel? Do you have any other novels about the first world war to recommend?
This novel will be released on October 3rd. This review was based on an advanced reader copy provided by Edelweiss.