The Picture Book by Jo Baker

It feels terribly clichéd to talk about words painting pictures but, although I have tried to find other words, I can really think of no better way to express my feelings about this book.

The author allows her reader to observe lives, visiting and watching. And it works beautifully, because she understands the maxim show don’t tell.

She writes in the first person present tense, something I don’t usually like. But after the first page I didn’t think about it. I was caught up.

The story opens in The Electric Theatre on York Road in Battersea. The date is 14th August 1914.

William and Amelia have come to see a film. Of course in 1914 that was a grand adventure, and a wonderful treat.

It  was also a farewell. William was to go to war and Amelia was to be left behind. That was why William gave Amelia the picture book.  An album that she could fill with the picture postcards he promised to send from wherever he might be sent.

William sees and wonders at the world. And he must face the war at Galipolli.

Amelia raises their son, Billy, and they must both face battles of their own.

Billy marries Ruby, who is Jewish, before he is caught up in another war.

Billy and Ruby’s son, Will,  grows up in a very different, post-war world and becomes an academic.

His first child is a daughter, Billie, and she moves the story into the present day and brings it full circle.

That broad story is perfectly captured. The world changes, and yet so much remains the same. Patterns repeat, and patterns change.

But there is so much more. So many crucial, small details. Actions. Events. Emotions. They show exactly what you need in order to understand. No more and no less. And they show how choices, both conscious and unconscious, can have repercussions long into the future.

The Picture Book shows real people, real lives, real emotions. Painted perfectly. Pictures of childhood, adulthood and old age. Pictures of a century of history and social change. So many pictures.

I knew nothing before I picked up The Picture Book and I gained so much from reading with no foreknowledge. That is why I shall share no more details. And that is why I shall write no more.

2 responses

  1. I read Jo Baker’s last book The Telling, and thought it was wonderfully atmospheric and involving and I am on the library waiting list for this – your review makes me even more desperate to read it!

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