- Author: Hélène Gestern
- Genre: epistolary novel
- Title: Eux Sur La Photo
- Published: (2011)
- Table of Contents: part 1 (chapters 1-8); part 2 (chapters 9-12); 300 pages
- Publisher: Arléa
- Timeline: March 2007 – April 2008 correspondence
- Setting: France
- Language: French
- Quote: Part 1. “Tous les images disparaîront” – Annie Ernaux
- Quote: Part 2. François Villon first 2 lines of poem “Frères humains”
- “Frères humains, qui après nous vivez,
N’ayez les cœurs contre nous endurcis
- Hélene places an ad with snapshot in the newspaper…like a message in a bottle.
- She is searching for information about her mother who died when she was 3 yr.
- The only evidence she has are two names written on the back of a photograph
- Hélène receives a reaction from Stéphane.
- He recognizes his father.
Genre: epistolary novel
- The novel is written as a series of documents. (letters, diary entries)
- The epistolary form can add greater realism.
- The correspondence mimics the workings of real life.
- It is able to reveal different points of view without the use of an omniscient narrator.
- “This family silence is a poison that contaminates all that it touches.”( pg 47)
- “Photo’s seem to distribute one’s different roles in the memories of others” (pg 141)
- “Despite the photo taken of her […] this woman is no longer there” (pg 177)
- “One has cast off the remains of 2 separate entities…finally accepting to become one together.” ( pg 261)
Nathalie has two different personalities.
- Name when she is with her family: Natalia, Natacha or Tacha Zabvine (NZ)
- Name after marriage: Nathalie Hivert (is Russian….becomes more French)
- The structure of the story was very original.
- 2 parts: The shadow - The light
- 12 chapters containing the correspondence between…
- Hélène (39 yr) and Stéphane (44 yr).
- Each chapter starts with the description of a photograph.
Part 1: L’ombre - secrets – yet photo’s are awash with sunlight. (1-8)
Part 2: La lumière – revelations (letters and journals) ( 9-12)
- 1971 – NZ 30 yrs -3 people at a tennis tournament – countryside – “en plein soleil’
- 1970 – Pierre – auto-portrait – Interlaken chalet – “le soleil oblique”
- 1963 – NZ 22 yrs – ID-photo for drivers permit
- 1955 – NZ 14 yrs – 15 other people – in Russian Orthodox church
- 1959 – NZ 18 yrs – 5 guests at table – dense foliage, garden canopy – ‘le chaud soleil’
- 1968 – NZ 27 yrs – she is 8 months pregnant - sunny terrace – ‘soleil de l’apres-midi’
- 19?? – NO people – beachfront, large hotel – ‘le reflet intense du soleil’
- 1970 – woman, man (Pierre?) his 2 sons ? – ‘un halo de lumière douce’
- 19?? – NZ is sitting in front of a chapel - autumn countryside - ‘lumière rare’
- 1969 – 4 persons: Natalia, baby Hélène, grandparents Zabvine – family garden
- 19?? – NO people – winter scene, virgin snow - ‘soleil pâle de janvier’
- 1971 – NZ 30 yrs – 2 people Natalia and Pierre - seated portrait
- Nathalie’s expression changes.
- Photo’s : 1,3,4, 5.
- playful ( regard malicieuse) - sullen ( renfrongée) – blasé ( uninterested) – clair (clear glance)
- Nathalie’s expression changes.
- Photo’s : 9, 12.
- melancholy (regard sourd et petrifié)
- calm with the certitude of being loved ( regard calme, la certitude tranquille d’être aimée)
- Strong point: Hélène Gestern uses the photo’s to introduce the characters through…
- ….expressions, gestures, clothes, poses, lighting and background.
- Strong point: The writer is a silent puppeteer.
- The characters are acting out a story in snapshots but never showing the strings attached.
- Last thoughts:
- I decided to read the book in a different way.
- Firstly, I studied the pages describing the photographs.
- I was able to pick up some clues hear and there.
- Hélène Gestern has a remarkable eye for detail!
- Through the external (photo’s) I discovered the internal.
- Then I read the correspondence between Hélène and Stéphane to
- ….reconstruct the puzzle of their famliy histories.
- (No spoilers)
- This book was a delight to read. I was captivated right from the beginning!
- It is very well written in accessible French.
- Great book to choose to polish your French language skills.