Book Review: To My Daughter in France by Barbara and Stephanie Keating

This book was recommended to me by a friend in case I was still looking to tick off the category ‘A book with multiple authors’ in my reading challenge – but I’d already got that one sorted – so I used this for ‘A novel set in wartime’ – but it could have slotted into other categories too (a good all rounder!)

To my daughter in France

“”And to my daughter in France, I bequeath the remainder of my Estate.” These words, read from the will of Irish academic Richard Kirwan, come as a complete surprise to his grieving family. In France, 24-year-old Solange de Valnay’s world is equally shattered: she loves the man she calls “Papa” and the Languedoc vineyard in which she had the happiest of childhoods; Celine, her adored mother, is dead. Just as she is about to embark on married life with her fiance Guy, all her certainties are undercut with doubt. She resolves to spurn her new-found Irish half-siblings. But once revealed, the truth of Richard Kirwan’s liaison cannot be so easily buried. The grief and anger of the Kirwan children impels them to ask searching questions – of their vibrant, artist mother Helena, and of Seamus, the saintly uncle whose life in Connemara seems perplexingly loveless. And though Solange might try to run from the past, it lives on in the memory of her remarkable, surprising grandmother, Charlotte. What emerges is an extraordinary tale of an irresistible but impossible love affair, of passion and blind heroism, of sacrifices made for love and honour and of four families whose resistance to the German forces occupying France during Second World War binds them across borders and cultures and through war and peace.”

Having just read a book I didn’t enjoy (The Bees by Laline Paull) – this gripped me from the start – which made a refreshing change, and reignited my desire to read!

It jumps between the present day (albeit the present day is 1970 and thus before I was born!) and the start of the story during the second world war.  However, the change in story keeps you wanting to read on – it doesn’t feel disjointed.  I’m not sure how the 2 authors split the writing – but it doesn’t feel like one wrote one time period and the other another era – it all kind of flows.

Some of it is in Dublin, some in rural Ireland, some in Paris, some in Geneva, some in various areas of rural France and some in prisoner of war camps (I’ve been to visit Dachau and what you see there stays with you forever) – and each of the different locations is described wonderfully.

There are some massive co-incidences – of different people meeting up in random places – and you kind of just have to go with that and accept it’s happened for the story to work!

I have one pet peeve (mostly because I am stupidly anal!) but at one point the story is in Thonon les Bains (somewhere I know well, as my best friend from school lives nearby) and the character in question says that they should return to France – implying it’s in Switzerland, as they’ve gone there from Geneva.  Thonon is actually over the border already in France, and I believe the writers meant Paris rather than France – but careless errors like this in the editing really annoy me.  I should, perhaps, get out more……..

But overall this is a beautiful, well written, interesting book that keeps the reader engaged.  The various different love stories – featuring all different types of love – are fabulously nuanced, and evolve really well.

Definitely a book I’d recommend – whether for a category on a reading challenge or just for an escapist read!








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