Last Christmas in Paris: A Novel of World War I by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb opens with the beginning of WWI. Two friends from childhood, Will Elliott and Thomas Harding, head out for France to fight, enthusiastically expecting the war to be over by Christmas. Then they plan to meet Will’s sister, Evie, and her friend, Alice, in Paris for Christmas to celebrate.
But of course the war drags on much longer than the few months til Christmas.
Evie writes Will and Thomas with all the support and hope she can send. Will is not much of a writer, so Evie gets most of her news about him from Tom.
Over time, enthusiasm and naiveté wanes and the realities of war weigh them all down. Tom gets more discouraged by what he has seen and has to do.
Tom also faces pressure from his father’s illness and business troubles. His father owns and operates the London Daily Times and always planned for Tom to follow in his footsteps. Tom’s interests fall more into a literary and scholarly vein, and he has no interest in the newspaper, which causes tension with his father. But when his father falls ill, Tom is consulted. He can’t do much from France, so he asks his cousin, John, to step in. There has been some longstanding feud between Tom’s and John’s families, but Tom never knew what it was all about, and he has to hope John will keep the paper’s best interests in mind.
Evie, meanwhile, chafes at home. She wants to do something to help, but her mother insists that for girls in her class, the only acceptable activity is aiding her mother with her charities and looking for a suitable husband. But Evie branches out from her protective gilded cage. Though she puts herself at risk, she also grows through her efforts.
The book opens with an aged and ill Thomas planning to go to Paris for Christmas in 1968 to read one last letter from Evie. Most of the book is made up of letters, mostly between Tom and Evie, but also with Will, Alice, their parents, and Tom’s contacts at his father’s business. At different places throughout the novel, the scene switches back to Tom and his current situation and reflections over his life.
This book was not in my Christmas reading plans, not even on my radar until Becky mentioned it. It sounded interesting, and I needed a new audiobook, so I got it. Epistolary novels are not my favorite style of writing, but I have enjoyed some.
I am so glad I listened to this book. I enjoy historical fiction, and not as many books are written about the first world war. I like how this one shared details of everyday life in England as well as on the front.
But mostly I enjoyed the growth of Evie and Tom’s characters and their relationship with each other. From lighthearted banter to lifting each other up from the deepest discouragement, from heartbreak to hope, from misunderstanding to shared poetry, they get to know one another better than they ever had before but almost miss each other in the end.
Though there is some mention of God and prayer, this is a secular book. It has maybe three bad words, but is remarkably clean.
The audiobook is excellently done, with different narrators for the different characters.
This is a beautiful book, and I am so glad I listened to it.