Jerusalem, 1920: in an already fractured city, eleven-year-old Prudence feels the tension rising as her architect father launches an ambitious – and wildly eccentric – plan to redesign the Holy City by importing English parks to the desert. Prue, known as the ‘little witness’, eavesdrops underneath the tables of tearooms and behind the curtains of the dance-halls of the city’s elite, watching everything but rarely being watched herself. Around her, British colonials, exiled Armenians and German officials rub shoulders as they line up the pieces in a political game: a game destined to lead to disaster. When Prue’s father employs a British pilot, William Harrington, to take aerial photographs of the city, Prue is uncomfortably aware of the attraction that sparks between him and Eleanora, the English wife of a famous Jerusalem photographer. And, after Harrington learns that Eleanora’s husband is a nationalist, intent on removing the British, those sparks are fanned dangerously into a flame. Years later, in 1937, Prue is an artist living a reclusive life by the sea with her young son, when Harrington pays her a surprise visit. What he reveals unravels her world, and she must follow the threads that lead her back to secrets long-ago buried in Jerusalem. The Photographer’s Wife is a powerful story of betrayal: between father and daughter, between husband and wife, and between nations and people, set in the complex period between the two world wars.
I really enjoyed this author’s debut novel so was delighted when I saw a new book available to review. However as other reviews began to come in, the early prognosis was not good and I approached this book with some trepidation. Thankfully I’m pleased to say, my response to it is far more positive.
The story is narrated by Prue, a not always reliable narrator because when we first meet her she is only a child, and throughout the intervening years, her relationships and corresponding mental state are not always robust.
Most of the major players in the unfolding drama are introduced during her stay in Jerusalem in 1920, a city simmering with growing unrest with the British administration. As an 11 year old child, taking things at face value, she does not have the wherewithal to understand the consequences of her actions, or the implications of the actions of others. It is an intriguing read, which leaves you questioning motives and actions as nothing is definitively expressed. To a degree what is not said and done, is as relevant and important as what is. The characters are often ambiguous, not always sympathetic, and their relevance is only fully understood later in the book as Prue herself begins to understand the past.
As the plot unravels, it is one which answers the questions which we as readers may have been asking, or clarifies what we have been thinking, but for Prue it actually raises some of those questions for the first time, resulting in a total re-assessment of all she thought she knew.
I enjoyed this book, it taught me something about a period and place in history of which I had little knowledge and would read more about. I find that reading books set within areas of conflict leave me questioning not only actions in the book I’m reading, but they make me re-assess the ‘history’ I was taught at school. Sadly it is a reality that the British Empire was not always a positive force for good, and was as much about power and control as it was reform and improvement.
There were aspects of the book that were problematic, I agree that the constant jumping around, especially in the beginning didn’t always make it an easy read. I also wonder whether the book suffers, to some degree with a prevailing trend in contemporary literature to grab the reader with an initial wow and then explore the whys and wherefores. This book tends to work in reverse, in that it offers a slow and gradual build up to a reveal of what was actually going on and how each character fitted into the overall scheme of things. For this reason, many readers who gave up early missed the point as things did make sense in the context of the overall picture.
This book is not an easy, light read, but if you want something with a bit more meat, that makes you think, and sheds a bit more light on an interesting period of history, then I suggest you give this title a try, as I think it’s worth it.
I received a review copy via NetGalley in return for an honest review.