The year is 1986 and Kate Darling has recently lost her mother June, a world-class ballerina, in a tragic accident. Kate is struggling with her grief for the woman who she considered her best friend as well as her mother in an effort to keep her memory alive seeks solace in her mother’s saviour, Evie. Following one of their frequent meetings it becomes clear that Evie has been keeping a secret for many years and gives Kate a painting of a woman at a picnic on a summer’s day that had been sent to June many years before. Kate senses a mystery and as a means of distraction from her unfulfilling life follows its lead.
The picture was painted in 1928 by an up-and-coming artist named Tom, now an elderly man, living on the island of Corsica and Kate goes to visit him to find out more about the woman he painted. Tom reveals his side of a bitter-sweet love story that started in Hertfordshire and ended in Paris during the Second World War.
Lucy Foley has bravely included three time-periods as well as three different locations in her tale which is executed with aplomb. The characters are all distinct, all feel authentic and true to the times they are depicted, especially Tom who struggles to balance his parent’s hopes and dreams for him with his love of art. Alice was a victim of the time and family she was born into and had the added encumbrance of her sex, destined to live her life without any purpose except to become a replica of her distant mother. Having just read two books that cover the occupation of France during the Second World War there were clear signs that the author had researched the historical element to use as detail for this part of the book, effortlessly transporting the reader to the exact time and place. By using different places for each of the time periods definitely made the transition of reading easier during the switches backwards and forwards in time.
I do love a dual time frame book but only when they are done well, this device, in the wrong hands is a disaster for a number of reasons; to execute a story of this type well the characters, time and place all need to be distinct and authentic. The historical detail has to be spot-on and any of the characters that age during the transition need to be recognisable but not ‘frozen in time.’ Lucy Foley didn’t fall into any of the many pitfalls, instead managing to weave a great saga that had me engaged in the grand love story from the first page.
As with all books in this genre the continuing story through the decades depends on a number of coincidences and tortured decisions to keep both the mystery element alive so although there were times that I desperately wished that the protagonists would say, or do, something different, perhaps for once take the sensible option, it wasn’t to be! And nor could it be! Again with books of this type I often prefer either the past or the present and as is often the case, the past was more engaging but I did enjoy the way that Kate was far from irrelevant to the story, she did have a stronger part to play than simply being the narrator of the events of previous years.
If like me you are still waiting for Kate Morton to write her fifth book, you could do an awful lot worse (I should know, I’ve tried some of them) than pick up this book in the meantime. I received my copy via Amazon Vine in return for this honest review. The Book of Lost and Found was published by HaperCollins on 15 January 2015.