The people in the photo by Hélène Gestern


The people in the photo by Hélène Gestern

French fiction

Original title – Eux sur la photo

Translation by Emily Boyce and Ros Schwartz

Source – review copy

Hélène Gestern is a French writer she is based in Nancy in France is a teacher and researcher at a laboratory studying linguistics   .She is also on the editorial committee of a literary review magazine dedicate to autobiographical writing .Her interest are photography and cats .This is her first book to be translated to English.

                                                              Ashford ,25 march 2007

Madame / Monsieur

I have only just read your advertisement ref 248 .22o in the Libération of 12 February

I believe I may have some information concerning the person you are inquiring about :I am convinced it is my father , who often used to spend his summers in Interlaken .I am enclosing the photocopy of his Geneva Tennis club membership card from the 1960’s ,which I have found among his papers .You will see his photograph on it

Could you tell me how you obtained his name and why you are seeking information about him

Yours faithfully


The first letter to Hélène from Stéphane that starts their journey .


The people in the photo is an epistolary novel .The book starts when    Hélène an archivist discovers a photo of her late  mother and two men the photo was taken in 1971 at a tennis tournament in Interlaken .Armed with this info she puts an advert in the French newspaper Libération with the names on the back of the photo and is shocked when she gets a reply from Stéphane a swiss biologist that is based in Kent ,he believes it is his father is one of the two men with Hélène’s late mother .This is the basis of the book the letters that follow try to find out what happened between the parents at the time ,try to get to the bottom of how Hélène’s mother died .

                                                    Paris , 17 Febuary (email)

Dear Stéphane

As if you had to ask ! I will yes ,as molly bloom would say , come with you to Geneva .And we can stop off to see Jean on the way back : I’m dying to meet him .Did the nurse tell you exactly what happened ?

I’ll be waiting for you at the flat on Friday .You know the way ,but you’ll need th new magic number b220

A tender kiss


AS you see they draw closer over the course of a year of writing to each other .

Now the book is an exploration of find out the secrets that can be kept from kids by their parents .The two main characters each in turn discover more about their parents than they wanted .The choosing of the epistolary form shows that even given the change from letters to e mails it still shows how the tension can be built from mail to mail as these two uncover the long-lost secrets of the past .Each some how finds out where they came from ,discover what problems can happen when there parents may have had a liaison in the past and what does this mean for the two of them now because although they have been drawn together by chance they actually start to like each other as the go on the journey of discovery .Photos play an important part in the book Hélène Gestern brings the pictures in this book to life in the prose as we see the family snaps of the two pass and the past come alive .This is one for loves of family secrets it is full of them ,loves of photos and if you are like me and see a picture and build your own narrative around it this is one for you ,how often have you found or seen a picture and wonder what happened then and what happened at the time ,also a book for the fan of the epistolary form .I will soon have a q&a with Hélène Gestern .

Have you a favourite epistolary novel ?

19 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings
    Feb 05, 2014 @ 11:37:48

    Sounds wonderful Stu – I love books that delve into the past like that!


  2. Guy Savage
    Feb 05, 2014 @ 15:46:46

    Jane Austen’s Lady Susan.


  3. heavenali
    Feb 05, 2014 @ 17:41:42

    This sounds excellent. I love hearing about these fascinating books you read. I Will have to add this to my wishlist.


  4. acommonreaderuk
    Feb 05, 2014 @ 19:19:46

    The only other epistolary novel I can think of is 84 Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff but I’m sure there are many others. This sounds rather good.


  5. Bina
    Feb 05, 2014 @ 21:22:16

    Yes, an epistolary novel! There’s not enough of them. This one does sound great, I love the tender kiss ending of the letter, it does sound very French somehow.
    I really enjoyed Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn and Daddy-Lon Legs by Jean Webster. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is another one I’ve read and would recommend.


    • winstonsdad
      Feb 09, 2014 @ 22:01:36

      Not tried them must look at them the guernsey book was very big over here and I tend avoid these at time so may look at it sure loads about second hand


  6. Lisa Hill
    Feb 06, 2014 @ 07:31:58

    My favourite epistolary novel is Daddy Long Legs. I read it as a teenager and of course it appealed to my romantic soul. There’s also Letters of Two Brides by Balzac, that’s good too.


  7. SilverSeason
    Feb 09, 2014 @ 12:24:23

    And if you go way back there is Clarissa Harlowe by Samuel Richardson. He may have been the inventor of the epistolary novel. Many people are reluctant to start the book because it is very long but he builds the characters wonderfully by what they say and what they withhold about themselves.


  8. Claire 'Word by Word'
    Feb 10, 2014 @ 20:46:14

    Loved this and definitely like the epistolary novel, Sandra Gulland’s. Josephine Bonaparte trilogy is one of my all time favourites.


  9. Trackback: Hélène Gestern q& a | Winstonsdad's Blog
  10. Russel
    Jun 19, 2014 @ 12:07:11

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    Thanks a million and please carry on the gratifying work.


  11. Trackback: Winston’s books of the year | Winstonsdad's Blog

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February 2014


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