Book reviews, Literary fiction

The Last Photograph by Emma Chapman

The Last Photography is a poignant tale of love, life and war. Oh, and it’s divine.

The Last Photograph

What’s is all about?

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

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 unwind 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…

You can read a longer extract from the book here.

What’s good about it?

The Last Photograph is an absorbing and captivating book that draws you in from the very start. In fact, it’s so engaging that I read it in one day on a round trip from Newcastle to London.

Chapman is exceptional at crafting consuming senses of time and place in her writing. The book is imbued with the glamour of the 1960s with lustrous descriptions of cocktail parties at The Ritz, fashionable frocks and post-war decadence.

The scenes in Vietnam are equally vivid, and the political tension and threat of violence is tangible. Chapman manages to steer clear of a historical war novel, though. The Vietnam War is a central part of this narrative but it’s used as a vehicle to explore the impact of conflict on real people and Rook’s urge to be a part of the unfolding action on the ground.

The consideration of war in The Last Photograph really intrigued me. It’s not glamorised but the comradery of the war correspondents – journalists and photographers at the coalface of the conflict – is extremely attractive. Rook’s desire to return there, to be part of such a vital and vibrant company, is truly understandable.

Rook is a character that I resonated with on many levels. Like a lot of people from small towns, he yearns to break out and discover the world beyond the inherited life path set out for him from birth. When he and June move to London, there’s an excitement and anticipation to their journey that feels very genuine without being condescending to those who remain at home.

The relationship between Rook and June defines The Last Photograph. At each stage of their marriage, Chapman beautifully captures the joys, tensions and strains on their relationship. From finding their own career paths to starting a family, the dramatic ups and downs of their union are hugely relatable and immensely engaging. Rook’s relationship with his son is also brilliantly portrayed, with just enough pathos and masculine head-butting to make it utterly believable.

The ending of the book is extremely poignant and explains much about Rook’s outlook and life choices. I was genuinely moved when reading the final chapters and saddened to leave these characters behind.

What’s not so good about it?

Not much at all. The pace is great, the characters are well developed and the story is engaging. I highly recommend this book.

The Last Photograph is out now in paperback from Picador.

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