The Last Love Letters of Henri Fournier

Written by Rosalind Brackenbury
Review by Viviane Crystal

Henri Fournier is pondering his life with a woman named Pauline as he travels by train to begin his military role in WWI in 1913. The sights, smells, and immense hunger that are part and parcel of real war hit him harshly, along with an exaggerated alertness about mortality. On entering battle, he gives his total effort to being part of the team, and in one last rush, his part is to leap to save his captain and then, to die. This is the man whom others will spend the remainder of this novel remembering, discussing, and analyzing: Henri Fournier, the famous French writer. The novel depicts Henri and Pauline’s secret love affair in 1913. In this account, we learn how Henri was a highly observant, sensitive individual whose thoughts and loves ran counter-culture to other men and women of that time. His one novel of fame is briefly but rather inadequately described in different parts of this story.

Then the author switches readers to 2013. Henri’s great-niece Isabelle de Giovanni has invited a young author, Seb, who has written a scholarly book on Henri Fournier, to visit. Isabelle is in her late 90s but sharp as a tack regarding her great-uncle, including his unfinished second novel and unpublished love letters to Pauline. Their sharing over many days focuses on Henri but also on Isabelle, Seb, and Isabelle’s daughter Chloe, their evolving friendships and more. The essence of this story is the depiction of love, literature and drama in the early 1900s and the outrageously disturbing First World War, which shattered so many in physical, emotional and spiritual ways. A nice work of historical fiction.