Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Last Photograph by Emma Chapman

He walks into the living room and June is dead.
He centres her, checking the light. Focusing, he clicks the shutter.
He'll ask himself later, if he knew. It's easy to say that he had acted without thinking, out of instinct. 
Rook Henderson is an award-winning photographer, still carrying the hidden scars of war. Now, suddenly, he is also a widower. Leaving his son Ralph to pick up the pieces, Rook flies to Vietnam for the first time in fifty years, escaping to the landscape of a place he once knew so well.
But when Ralph follows him out there, seeking answers from the father he barely knows, Rook is forced to retrace his past: his childhood in Yorkshire, his life in London in the 1960s and his marriage to the unforgettable June - and to ask himself what price he has paid for a life behind the lens ......

The Last Photograph by Emma Chapman was published by Picador on 28 July 2016 and is the author's second book.   I read and reviewed Emma Chapman's first book, How To Be A Good Wife here on Random Things in December 2012. It is a novel that I have recommended to so many people, I've bought copies and thrust them into the hands of friends, urging them to read it. It's been a long, long wait for The Last Photograph!

The Last Photograph is the story of a marriage, the story of a career, the story of a war and a story that examines how hidden pasts can shape the future.

Rook Henderson flees to Vietnam when his wife of many years, June, dies suddenly. Vietnam is the place that has shaped most of Rook's life; the place where his career took off, the place where he formed solid friendships, but also the place where he experienced things that haunt him, It's fifty years since he last stepped off an aeroplane onto Vietnamese soil. The war was over a long time ago, but Rook is compelled to return.

The author has structured Rook's story so very well. We are with him in the present day, and are then transported back to the 1960s where we share his experiences as a newspaper photographer. Rook has always used his camera as a shield, and finds that he can distance his mind from the horrors that he witnesses when he watches through his lens. This also enables him to take extraordinary images that depict events that the US Government would prefer to hide.

The reader also follows Rook and June as they fall in love and marry. Their dreams take them away from the Yorkshire pit town of their childhood to the opportunities on the streets of London. Their relationship is complex and fraught, hindered by Rook's lengthy stretches abroad.

Sixty-three journalists were killed during the Vietnam War, and whilst Rook is purely fictional,
Emma Chapman has clearly been influenced by some of the correspondents who bravely captured the images of war to send back home. The sense of place is absolutely outstanding, the detailed descriptions of each location is wonderfully done and is testament to the huge amount of research that this talented author has obviously carried out.

The Last Photograph cleverly and elegantly interweaves Rook's present-day story and feelings with those from his past. It is written with tenderness and compassion and both Rook and June are perfectly crafted characters, none of their flaws are hidden, yet both of them are charismatic and I became very attached to them both.

This novel moved me, it has stayed in my head, I have thought about it endlessly. It's so very different to the author's first novel, but it's also so very very beautiful. She deals with very important issues with bravery and honesty and I am, once again, astounded by her writing.

My thanks to the publisher who supplied my copy of The Last Photograph for review.

Listen to Emma reading and discussing The Last Photograph on Radio 4's Open Book

Check out The Last Photograph website at www.thelastphotgraph.com where you can find Rook's photos that relate to each chapter of the book.

Emma Chapman was born in 1985 and grew up in Manchester. She studied English Literature at Edinburgh University, followed by an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, and now lives in North Yorkshire.

Her highly acclaimed debut novel, How To Be A Good Wife, was longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize.

While researching The Last Photograph in Vietnam, Emma set up a charity called Vietnam Volunteer Teachers (www.vietnamvolunteerteachers.com) to bring native English speakers to remote areas of the country.

Find out more about Emma Chapman, visit her website www.emmachapman.com 
Find her Author page on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @emmajchapman

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