Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Last Christmas in Paris:
A Novel of World War I

by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
William Morrow Paperbacks , 2017
David F. Beer, Reviewer

I hope you did as I wished and took this letter to Paris to read. 
Our last Christmas together there was one of the happiest, wasn’t it? 
What little we knew then of the challenges the New Year would bring (p 363).

An Epistolary WWI Novel!

Does anyone write letters anymore? How long is it, dear reader, since you sat down, pen in hand and a clean sheet of paper in front of you, and composed a clearly written epistle to someone? Yes, letters were also once known as epistles, and that’s why Last Christmas in Paris falls within the tradition of the epistolary novel—a story written almost entirely in the form of letters. The tradition has pretty much died out now, so it’s refreshing to find a modern story like this, written collaboratively by two recognized authors, Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb.

Don’t be fooled by the title. This book is nothing like the 1972 film Last Tango in Paris or the more recent and delightful Last Tango in Halifax series on TV. Rather it’s an interesting and extended flashback from 15 December 1968 to the war years of 1914 to1918 and the letters exchanged by Evie Elliot and Thomas Harding during that time. A brief ending brings us back to Christmas Eve 1968 and a final letter written in February 1969. The romance and the realism that evolve from the letters during the course of the war are moving and at times shocking. The way the novel deals with both the unexpected and the transitory element of life can ring a bell in our own experience. 

One of the Correspondents Receives a Princess Mary Gift Box

Not everyone appreciates a novel of this sort nowadays. For well over two thousand years people wrote by hand on papyrus, parchment, or paper, and it’s only in the last few decades that we’ve entered the world of the computer, the word processor, email and so on. The generation of the Great War still knew and used pen, ink, and paper and took time to compose and write in a more leisurely manner no matter how poignant the content might be. Just think of all the letters we have on record from soldiers and officers in the trenches. One of the endearing qualities of this novel is how it takes us back to this less hurried form of communication.

It’s always interesting to see what readers think of a book. It seems inevitable that some readers love it, some are ambivalent, and some simply don’t enjoy it at all. So here is a brief paraphrased selection of what others have thought of Last Christmas in Paris: A Novel of World War I:

WOW! Can you imagine reading a book about "The Great War" World War 1, and not only absorb the devastation, emotional and physical distress of both the men and women involved, and yet feel the love, friendship, faith and hope?

Excellent pace, important themes, and powerfully moving.

 I shed many a tear as I eagerly turned the pages to see what the next group of letters would bring.  This was a wonderful read. It not only gave me an appreciation for those who endured the war, but also the practice of letter writing. 

Found the book very slow to get going and not what I had been expecting.

Its ok. [sic]

Well, there’s no accounting for taste, as they say. But if you would enjoy a leisurely read that deftly includes romance, insight, tragedy, and the harsh realities of war, all in the format of letters, then I highly recommend it.

David F. Beer

1 comment:

  1. The book appears to be a great way to see another level of life affected by the Great War. I look forward to it. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. Cheers