Last Christmas in Paris
Few challenges are more daunting for two writers than attempting to take on a narrative told almost exclusively through an exchange of letters. In addition, these two writers are from different continents, one from America, and the other from Britain. So, this novel is a testament to the expertise of Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb. They have woven a narrative in letters, mostly told through the main characters Evie and Tom. The story unfolds during almost a four- year period while Tom is stationed in France on the battle lines and in the trenches of World War I, while Evie is in London writing copy for the newspaper that Tom’s family owns. The war itself is a character in their story, since it is the impact of the raging conflict and the way the characters interact within its bounds that propel the account. Through their letters they cope with the loss of Evie’s brother Will on the battlefield, and the loss of innocence they face as they mature into adulthood, each encountering revulsions they wish to shield from one another.
Much of what makes the novel compelling is its dramatic irony; the reader knows the war will be longer than one year, yet the letter writers express their initial desires to return home since they think the governments will come to their senses and find peace. Yet, the war drags on, and with it the horrors of trench sickness, encircling death, and the gut-wrenching realization that there is no end in sight. The story resonates with our modern day when Tom copes with post-traumatic stress disorder. A very enjoyable, informative novel.