Clichéd and overlong novel about war photographers coping with PTSD, love affairs and family secrets.
Bradford’s protagonist, 30-year-old Serena, is a combat photographer who has left the front lines to pen a biography of her late father, Tommy, founder of a photojournalism empire and a former war correspondent himself. When another photojournalist, ex-boyfriend Zac, is brought from Afghanistan to Venice by a mutual friend, Serena, summoned to his side to help him decompress, finds herself falling for him all over again. The scene shifts to Nice, where Serena reconnects with her older twin sisters, Cara and Jessica, at a villa inherited from their late mother, a movie star of Elizabeth Taylor stature. Over many, many glasses of pink Veuve Clicquot and cups of tea, repetitious conversations belabor mostly peripheral and insignificant details—about Cara’s and Jessica’s unadventurous love lives, an upcoming anniversary celebrating their departed parents and Zac’s continuing recovery from a trauma that was never rendered convincingly in the first place. It isn’t until two-thirds in that a potentially riveting “secret from the past” emerges: While combing through her father’s archives, Serena finds a cache of photographs revealing that Tommy may have dallied briefly with another war photographer, Valentina. There are photos of a very pregnant Val, with a disturbing caption suggesting that Serena may not be a movie star’s daughter after all. Serena can get no confirmation of her origins from her sisters or her father’s closest friends. But Zac distracts her from this dilemma with another. Although he promised to give up war-zone reporting forever, he wants to go to Libya to cover the rebellion against Gadhafi. And he insists on taking Serena, now his fiancee, with him. Serena has an ulterior motive for agreeing: Val is now in Libya. But that’s not the most distressing information she’s withholding from Zac. However, the prodigious amount of front-loaded exposition may discourage readers long before the excitement starts.
A gripping novella embedded in a thick tome of largely irrelevant window dressing.