The Last Photograph
by Emma Chapman
He walks into the living room and June is dead. He centres her, checking the light. Focusing, he clicks the shutter. He’ll ask himself later, if he knew. It’s easy to say that he had acted without thinking, out of instinct. Rook Henderson is an award-winning photographer, still carrying the hidden scars of war. Now, suddenly, he is also a widower. Leaving his son Ralph to pick up the pieces, Rook flies to Vietnam for the first time in fifty years, escaping to the landscape of a place he once knew so well. But when Ralph follows him out there, seeking answers from the father he barely knows, Rook is forced to unwind his past: his childhood in Yorkshire, his life in London in the 1960s and his marriage to the unforgettable June – and to ask himself what price he has paid for a life behind the lens …Gripping, evocative and unforgettable, The Last Photograph is a story of a life shaped by trauma and love – and the secrets that make us who we are.
When Rook’s wife, June, dies suddenly, he flees the country to go back to Vietnam where he was a photographer during the war, leaving his son Ralph with nothing more than an email informing him that his mother has died.
Ralph chases after his dad wanting answers, but Rook is looking for his own answers. Revisiting his old haunts and old friends, he tries to come to terms with what happened to him there so many years ago.
The book moves backward and forward in time, starting when Rook met June in their hometown in the north of England. June, desperate to be an actress, pushes Rook into a move to London when she sends some of his photographs to the editor of the Times. Once they get to London they find that things are not as easy as first thought. So when Rook is given a job as photographer in the Vietnam war, they feel he must take it.
The book is as much about the relationship between Rook and June as it is about the war. June feeling incredibly alone without him and having given up on the acting work, makes some friends that Rook just can’t identify with and a chasm appears in their relationship.
When Rook comes home for good after a traumatic experience the couple move to the countryside to try to ground themselves. They have their son Ralph, but nothing seems to bring them closer.
This is an emotive book, dealing with the trauma affecting people during wartime, not only the people in Vietnam but those left behind as well. The two main characters, Rook and June are extremely well-rounded. Rook, the naive young man heading out to Vietnam, and June the headstrong young lady who knows exactly what she wants. We watch them develop and turn into different people as life takes its toll. Rook is deeply affected by events that happened during the war and also in his childhood. Whilst June comes to realise that life isn’t as easy as she thought, but her character comes through in her fight for her relationship.
Having had the pleasure of Emma Chapman visiting Urmston Bookshop, I have seen the amount of research that was done and how much she loves Vietnam and its people. This shines through on every page of her book.
This is a very well written book that deserves to be widely read.