Last Christmas in Paris: A Novel of World War I

by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Last Christmas in Paris is not about Christmas, exactly, or about Paris, but it’s still the heartwarming tale you want to read at this time of year. In England, spirited and charming Evie keeps correspondence with her brother, Will, her brother’s good friend, Tom, and her friend Alice, who are all deployed to France to fight les Boches. Secrets are spilled, miscommunications run rampant, important letters go missing and confessions are revealed. Love conquers all.

This is yet another WWI book, and at times is very sad. But it is also full of hope and courage, and yes I definitely got choked up, but as I have mentioned before, that is pretty much how I react to anything. The plot was pretty straight-forwarded and the “mysteries” that coaxed things along were pretty transparent, but is anyone minding here? No, we are not. I want romance and happy(ish) endings! I want engagements and secret babies and dastardly but handsome villains trying to woo the fair maiden’s heart! Yes to all of it!

One of the sweetest parts of the novel is that it’s told in letter format. While this isn’t new, it gives a sense of intimacy that works perfectly in this situation. It brings you back a century to a time when you waited weeks, even months, to get a response from a loved one.

"Please keep safe, and do not feel alone. Send word whenever you can. Your letters have become something of a life raft for me to cling to. Never stop writing. We will fight this war together, you and I."

It’s horribly romantic, isn’t it? I think I would love it if letter writing came back into fashion, as we must put such thought and consideration into every word we write. And there’s also the anticipation of receiving a letter – the excitement would mount with every post delivery. How often do you think a postman was mauled by eager hands, desperate for responses? I think letter writing would heighten the experience of falling in love. I might start writing love letters. However, I can sense my husband rolling his eyes from here, so maybe not.

There is an interesting concept of fake news that actually comes up in the book. The British government censored war news coming out of the battlefields and what was written in the newspapers, in order to control the story. People back home were kept in the dark as to the real conditions of the soldiers on the front. Evie is determined to enlighten the public as to the truth, and her efforts are met with mixed reactions. She concedes at the end that she’s not even sure revealing the truth is worth what she risked losing.

“Why was I so hell-bent on telling “the truth?” What does it matter in the end? We are still at war. Thousands of men are dying every day. My words make no difference at all. All they have achieved is to destroy the only true thing I have ever known."

Does real reporting matter? Such an important question in this age, as rampant allegations of “fake news” are deteriorating the ability to report, or trust, the truth. As the public loses confidence in the press, the truth becomes more and more elusive. And a free press is one of the pillars of democracy.

An independent press ensures that citizens stay informed about the actions of their government, creating a forum for debate and the open exchange of ideas. And the press also occupies another critical role: watchdog. – Patrick D’Arcy, We Humans,

What did the lack of the truth mean to the public during WWI? Did it allow them to maintain a level of normalcy in their daily life to keep society alive? Or did it allow a government to control the message of glorious victory, that encouraged more and more volunteers and afterwards support for a conscription law, which provided more human fodder into a desperate war that shattered the souls of nations? Interesting questions, and I’m not quite sure how I’ve arrived here, as I swear when I read this book I was feeling light and fluffy and romantic. I’ve now convinced myself this feel-good book is also deeper than initially thought.

Last Christmas in Paris: come for the romantic love letters, stay for the impossible-to-answer questions on freedom of the press. Recommended, for sure.