The Woman In The Picture

Written by James Wilson
Review by Sally Zigmond

James Wilson’s third novel is set in the late 1920s and 1930s with current day interpolations which become increasingly important as the novel progresses. The plot is about the drift into mental imbalance of an English film director, one Henry Whitaker, expressed through his own jottings and observations. His daughter from his second marriage, Miranda, is contacted by an academic biographer attempting to write the life of Henry Whitaker. This raises all sorts of questions about Miranda’s mother’s apparent suicide whilst married to Henry Whitaker, and the story develops into Miranda’s search for as much truth as she can gather about the past.

                Although this is a thoughtful and intelligent story, there are just too many coincidences in the plot. This does develop into a feature of the book – how much our destiny is shaped by contingencies and unplanned elements but such a high rate does stretch the credulity of the reader. Similarly, there were too many technical details about meeting the challenges of making silent films and preparations for the most effective shots and getting the best lighting effects which, for the reader not particularly interested in such specialist knowledge can make for tedious reading. In general, this is a good novel set in a sound and effective historical context.