This book has been on my radar for a while so I was pleased when I had a gap in the blog tours to read something purely for me. It was stunning, and left me reeling with emotion by the time I closed the book. Scroll down to find out why.
Book Review: The Woman in the Photograph by Stephanie Butland
Title: The Woman in the Photograph
Author: Stephanie Butland
Genre: General fiction (it is classed as Women’s Fiction but should be aimed at all genders)
Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre
Release Date: 11th July 2019
Veronica Moon, a junior photographer on a local paper in an Essex town, is frustrated. She never gets good assignments, and no one takes her seriously. And then she visits the picket line at Dagenham Ford Factory. At the front line of the fight for equal pay for women workers she meets Leonie – a privileged, angry activist, ahead of her time and prepared to fight for equality with everything she has. Veronica is captivated. She breaks off her engagement and moves to London with Leonie to begin a game-changing career and an intoxicating friendship.
Fifty years later and Leonie is gone. Veronica is a recluse with a crippling degenerative disease. For a while she was heralded as a pioneer, leading the charge for women everywhere. But her career was shockingly and abruptly ended by one of the most famous photographs of the twentieth century. It is a photograph she took of her best friend’s death.
Now, as that controversial picture hangs as the centrepiece of a new feminist exhibition curated by Leonie’s niece, long-repressed memories of Veronica’s extraordinary life and tumultuous, passionate and – at times toxic – friendship begin to stir.
It’s time to break her silence and step back into the light. And she will no longer hide from the truth about that dark time . . .
This book blew me away. It is intelligent, thought-provoking, emotional (to the point I sobbed in front of my in-laws) and got under my skin.
It is a retrospective look on the second wave of feminism through the eyes of Veronica Moon, a photographer as she becomes involved in an exhibition of her work over the previous fifty years. Set in 2018, the interaction between her and the exhibition’s organiser, Erica drew me in and highlights the differences in attitude between generations and how feminism has evolved from the 1970’s marches to the #MeToo movement.
Veronica, Vee did not know anything about feminism until she met bolshie, educated and opinionated Leonie in 1968. Through the relationship and Leonie acting as a mentor, Vee evolves and learns about her place in the world and the fight for equality ahead. Vee’s learning curve became my own because it made me realise how little I knew beyond the suffragettes and Dagenham. It was eye opening to read about the restrictions on women at the time, many I did not know about such as needing a guarantor to take a mortgage out on your own. There are many things we take for granted that the older generation had to fight for. Likewise in the present day, Vee becomes Erica’s mentor who until then saw feminism much like did.
The novel as the title suggests revolves around photographs; Stephanie Butland’s talent for describing them brought the images alive adding to the depth of the story. Throughout the story, there is a mystery of a particular image of Leonie which made me keep turning the pages.
Feminism plays a large role in this novel but at it’s heart is the journey of women, and an exploration of the relationships between them, their families, spouses and wider world.
Would I recommend?
Yes, it is one I would like to shout about and if I was still working in the library I would be urging people to give it ago. I have read some of Stephanie Butland’s books before and loved them, especially Lost in Words but this is special; Leonie, Vee and Erica will remain in my heart. Their voices will continue speak to me urging me to follow their lead, keep fighting to make a difference, be proud of who I am and what I achieve, support fellow sisters and always question the world around me. It left me feeling empowered and I am not the same person I was when I read the opening paragraph. This is definitely one for my forever shelf.
This book has encouraged me to read some books exploring feminism. I would love some recommendations so feel free to comment below.