When the guns fell silent on the Western Front in 1918, it marked the end of hostilities… but for many, the anguish was far from over.
Inspired by her Lancashire family’s collection of postcards and photographs, Caroline Scott turns her historian’s eye and compassionate heart to a powerful poignant novel which explores the devastating aftermath of the First World War.
For many, the declaration of victory for Britain and its Allies was not the end of the pain and grief… thousands of soldiers lay dead amidst the chaos and ruins of France and Belgium, and their loved ones were desperate to find them.
Over one hundred years after the end of this most cruel of conflicts, Scott brings us an epic tale of forbidden love, loss, grief and renewal as we follow the journey of two people in search of the truth about the demise of a much-loved brother and husband who was recorded missing in action in 1917, but who may yet be still alive.
As they travel separately through a ravaged land full of nameless men ‘swallowed up by the earth, their identities gone, along with their futures,’ they must confront the past and their own sense of guilt as they finally meet, and find resolution, in a place far from the battlefields.
In the spring of 1921, families across Britain 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 Blythe’s husband Francis has not come home.
He was reported ‘missing in action’ in 1917 but when the postman delivers an envelope containing a mysterious photograph, obviously taken by Francis himself and pictured wearing civilian clothes, hope flares again for Edie and she leaves her Lancashire home to search for him in France.
Meanwhile, Harry, Francis’s brother and the only one of the three Blythe siblings to come home from the war, also longs for Francis to be alive because as brothers, they were ‘a fundamental and overlapping part of each other.’ But Harry has another guilty reason for wanting to find Francis… the chance to forgive each other for the last things they said.
Both brothers shared a love of photography and it is this passion that sends Harry back to the Western Front. He has been hired by grieving families to photograph grave sites in battle-scarred France, gathering news for wives and mothers… and along the way he looks for evidence of his brother.
In the ruins of towns like Arras, women are posting sketches and photographs of their missing husbands and sweethearts in enquiry offices, cafes and railway stations – like ‘misplaced shoes that need pairing together again’ – in the hope that someone will recognise them.
And as Harry and Edie’s paths converge, they get closer to a startling truth…
Scott’s stunning novel is both memorable and haunting, an exquisitely moving exploration of what it means to survive when so many have lost their lives, of the psychological gulf between those who fight and those who stay at home, and the unseen legacies that will ripple onwards through the generations.
Written with breathtaking beauty, insight and tenderness, The Photographer of the Lost takes readers to some of the shadowy corners of warfare that are rarely visited… into the tortured hearts of those desperate to know what happened to their loved ones, behind the lines with battle-weary and psychologically damaged soldiers, and across broken towns littered with the sad detritus of war.
In the pages of this unforgettable story, there is unbearable pain and suffering, and unflinching truths about the human cost of war as two lost souls – mere drops in an ocean of tears – seek closure to their guilt and grief. But there is also love, hope, new beginnings and the memories that can never die.
Don’t miss it…
(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £8.99)