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Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Article by Swirl and Thread ©.
Posted in | .

‘I had a dream last night that we were in Paris for Christmas. You, me, Will, Alice…..It was the most perfect dream Thomas. I know we will get there one day. I promise we will’ 

Last Christmas in Paris is a collaborative work of fiction from two bestselling authors, Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb. Just published by Harper Collins/William Morrow, Last Christmas in Paris is a novel based, mainly, on the correspondence between Evie Elliot and Thomas Harding during the Great War.

I have never read a book in this format before but what an incredible book this was!! I’m feeling very fortunate recently to be reading books that have burrowed straight into my heart. Last Christmas in Paris is one such book.

Please continue reading to find out why…

Last Christmas in Paris is a novel consisting of letters written over the course of WW1, coupled with intermittent flashbacks from an elderly man in 1968 as he embarks on one final journey. Divided into five main sections, one for each year of the war, we watch the blossoming of relationships, the tragedy of useless deaths and the horrors of war as they unfold.

One of my all time favourite books is Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, a book that truly brought the atrocities of the Great War home to me. Last Christmas in Paris exposes the barbarity of this ‘war to end all wars’ using a different method and in doing so stirs up similar strong emotions.

The year is 1914. It is expected that England will be involved in a short skirmish, with all troops safely home for Christmas. Evie Elliot waves off her brother Will and his best friend Thomas Harding, with a promise that the three of them will gather on the banks of the Seine to celebrate the joys of the Festive season. Evie loves to write, with dreams of being published some day, but for now she is happy to write letters to Will and Thomas as they embark on their journey into the unknown.

Initially the letters contain lighthearted banter as all three are carried along in all the excitement of the adventure, but as we now know, the battlefields of France soon became a nightmare.

In the prologue of the novel, it is 1968 and a much older and fragile Tomas Harding is packing his bags, with one last letter in his hand that he will only open in Paris. He carries with him all the correspondence that was written during those years of war, between Evie and himself. ‘So much fear and hope captured in our words, so much longing and loss – and love. She always said her war was fought in words; her pen and prose the only weapon she, as a woman, could wield….That a fragile bundle of paper sentiments survived the war when so many people were lost has always angered me, but now I am glad of them.’

Thomas shares the words, the feelings, the inhumanity of those years, through these letters with us. We are taken on a journey back through the annals of time, back to when the innocence of so many was ravaged and hope for so many more was forever lost.

At the beginning Evie is quite flighty and coy in her letters. Overtime there is an underlying flirtatiousness to her writing, which is soon followed by anxiety and fear. With all her loved ones in danger, Evie feels useless at home. She wants to be more involved and, as a woman, she wants to step up and help her countrymen in any way she can. In parallel to Thomas and Will’s recount of life in the trenches, we hear from Evie and her feelings of futility while remaining at home.

‘It all feels so fragile. Like silk beginning to fray, and once that thread begins to unravel, it is difficult to stop it. War makes me question everything. It makes me feel brave and then foolish and then reckless with my emotions so that I don’t quite know who I am anymore.’

The letters span those horrendous years of The Great War when a world was left forever scarred. We hear the stories of courage and valor, of terror and anguish, of hopelessness and heartbreak.

Last Christmas in Paris is a special tribute to all those brave soldiers of war, who stepped up and fought for the freedom of others, who put their lives at risk so that others would survive. These brave men and women deserve to be remembered, they deserve their place in history.

‘If we owe our men anything, it is to seek the truth of the war in which they fought and to remember them…..Above all, we must always remember them.’

Last Christmas In Paris is a remarkable tale of love, heartache and passion, but it is also a tale of sorrow, grief and fear. Beautifully written with moments of pure poetry in it’s words, there is an eloquence to every sentence written. The descriptions, the emotive content, the style of the chapters all contribute to making this a truly mesmerising read.

Evie and Thomas broke my heart and I am so very grateful to Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb for bringing them into my life.

And YES I do recommend!!

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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