There’s often an assumption made that men can’t write women well.
You read prose about women in the third person omniscient; the voice comes across very much like a man being a woman; not necessarily just a woman. The same cannot be said for a number of female authors taking the male voice in their fiction. The best example of this in my experience was the glorious Zadie Smith’s sophomore effort The Autograph Man, which placed the narrative squarely in the experience of a chap. Even the better authors, fellows like Tom Wolfe can stumble when placed in this circumstance – his I Am Charlotte Simmons read like a septuagenarian man attempting to adopt the mind’s eye of a college girl. Not a big hit, that one.
To the evening’s business: Emma Chapman is one of the authors who finds great comfort and comparative ease in adopting the male experience into her writing, in this very engaging, emotional and moving piece of work. In The Last Photograph she places the narrative in the hands of a man at two stages in his life – the mourning widower in his dotage; the up-and-coming photographer in his 20s who finds passion in his work and art, rather than in his marriage. Choices echo over time and blend together to make an emotionally powerful narrative. It’s a compelling, compulsive read.
Chapman’s prose is sparse, and this is a solid, vigorous and comparatively easy piece of work to get through. She switches focus from past to ‘present’ (as it were) between chapters and in doing so – quite successfully – builds a full picture of one individual’s sense of long-term regret and remorse at decisions made in error.
While reading it, you can’t help but be drawn to, or draw parallels to Graeme Green, specifically The Quiet American; the book’s narrative features many parallels to the mood and structure of that piece, down to the idea of a Brit expat journalist being in southeast Asia at the start of the Vietnam war. And it stands to comparison, holding itself quite well while we’re at it.
As a sophomore novelist, Emma Chapman promises great things. Highly recommended.