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Jo Baker was educated at Oxford and Queen's University, Belfast. She lives in Lancaster with her husband and their two children. She is the author of the bestselling Longbourn, which is due to be made into a film. Her latest novel is inspired by the life of Samuel Beckett.
Author photo © Ed Marshall, Time Out , Camera Press London
Shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2017. An enthralling work of literary fiction exploring Samuel Beckett’s life in Occupied France. It’s autumn, 1939 and a young writer has returned to Paris, and to Suzanne, his lover and anchor. “He didn’t have to come back. But here he is”, a “pale and wounded Irish man”, without the necessary papers, but ready to make an impact with his art, ready to do something of worth. Then Paris falls, his friend (James) Joyce departs, and soon “Paris isn’t Paris any more”. Associates are taken, Gestapo presence is ever more pervasive and, at huge risk, he joins the Resistance, while also questioning the value of a writer’s work.Throughout, the writing possesses an effecting sparseness, from the early domestic scenes with the writer’s family, “all shiny buckled shoes and neat cardigans”, to the bleakness of Occupied France (the hunger, the acts of cruelty, the creeping fear and despair). This novel is both a profound portrayal of an artist’s inner life, and of his engagement with the ravaged world outside. It’s also a testament to a spirit of survival, to finding “decency amongst the ruins”. ~ Joanne Owen The Walter Scott Prize Judges said: ‘We loved the quiet, lyrical, beauty of this novel and its skilful recreation of Samuel Beckett’s years in France throughout the Second World War. It’s illuminating about Beckett’s individual heroism and humanity. The descriptions of France under occupation are always surprising and moving as he (and Baker) chart the horror, despair, starvation and uncertainty of those years with a writer’s eye. Central to the narrative is Beckett’s love for Suzanne, the young French woman he eventually married. The strain of five years of war, their escape from Paris, their long walk to Roussillon and their repeated separations takes a heavy toll on their relationship. But through all of this their quiet love survives.’
If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah thought, she would be more careful not to trudge through muddy fields. It is wash-day for the housemaids at Longbourn House, and Sarah's hands are chapped and bleeding. Domestic life below stairs, ruled tenderly and forcefully by Mrs Hill the housekeeper, is about to be disturbed by the arrival of a new footman smelling of the sea, and bearing secrets.
If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah thought, she would be more careful not to trudge through muddy fields. It is wash-day for the housemaids at Longbourn House, and Sarah's hands are chapped and bleeding.