Title: The French Gift
Author: Kirsty Manning
Published: March 30th 2021
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 5 stars
A forgotten manuscript threatens to unravel the past …
Fresnes Prison, 1940: Margot Bisset, a former maid from the Riviera, finds herself in a prison cell with writer and French Resistance fighter, Josephine Murant. Together, they are transferred to a work camp in Germany, where the secrets they share will bind them for generations to come.
Present-day Paris: Evie Black lives above her botanical bookshop with her teenage son, Hugo. Nursing a broken heart, Evie receives an unexpected letter; she clutches at an opportunity to spend a magical summer with Hugo on the Cote d’Azur.
It’s here, on the Riviera, that the past envelops them and Evie attempts to unravel the official story of a famous novelist. If she succeeds, a murder from a lifetime ago may be solved.
Inspired by a true story of iconic French Resistance fighter, Agnes Humbert, whose secret journal shed light on a little-known aspect of World War II, The French Gift will captivate readers from beginning to unforgettable end.
So divine. The French Gift by Kirsty Manning sings perfection. A chronicle of friendship, unforgettable bonds, survival, determination, endurance and desire in a time of great hardship, The French Gift is nothing short of magnificent. If you have never picked up a Kirsty Manning book, let now be your time!
The story of a secret manuscript that links the present to the past, The French Gift travels effortlessly between 1940 and the present day. The past narrative of The French Gift takes readers to a prison in France, where an unbreakable friendship transpires between a maid and a writer. Both women are tested to their very limits under the harsh conditions of a prison and then a work camp in Germany. The events that occur during this time haunts both women for decades after. The French Gift also takes the audience to the present day as a heartbroken mother named Evie Black receives a life changing opportunity to embark on a travel adventure to the Cote d’Azur region. As the exotic allure of the French Riviera engulfs Evie, she becomes directly involved in a puzzling mystery surrounding a well-known novelist. Evie’s attempts to solve this perplexing mystery consumes her as the hidden history of a famous Resistance fighter comes to light via the discovery of a secret journal. Will Evie help put the ghosts of this wartime mystery to rest?
A new Kirsty Manning is always a cause for celebration. I admit to having my review copy of The French Gift languishing on my shelves for far too long. I have been saving this one for the upcoming holiday break, so that I could enjoy The French Gift in a more relaxing space, as I do love to indulge completely in Kirsty Manning’s sumptuous writing. And that I did! There are all good things to be said about this one.
Manning is a skilled writer, who seems to take herself just that one step further with her writing each time she releases a new novel. In The French Gift, we are presented with different timelines and three alternating female viewpoints as this story gradually unfurls. I think a dual timeline and multiple perspective narrative format is very ambitious, but yet again Manning shows us that she is a unafraid of taking on such a bold form of storytelling. The end result of this fearless narrative approach is a story that presents as evenly balanced, insightful, sensitive and graceful.
Manning has the touch in terms of conveying her sense of place. We have a wonderful and vivid presentation of the French Riviera, the Cote d’Azur and the past setting which exposes the horrors of a prison and a labour camp. Manning maintains a strong sense of plausibility, authenticity and historical fact when she enters her various locations. The historical landscape featured in this novel is heavily researched by this dedicated author, despite any issues Manning may have encountered due to the travel restrictions imposed by COVID-19. Manning’s wartime-based mystery is relayed with fascinating detail and period specific information that helped me to better understand the lives of the incredible characters of this tale. I must also mention that Manning has a fine eye for food, so her cuisine descriptions were a joy to read as The French Gift made its way into my heart.
If murder mysteries and intriguing writer-based tales appeal, The French Gift will bring you plenty of satisfaction and valuable reading time. I loved getting to the bottom of this perplexing wartime-based puzzle. Manning places a few shocks, surprising revelations and final twists, which allows the reader to ponder on the eventualities of this remarkable tale. For me, it is always about the hidden histories that Manning so passionately reveals through her sensational narratives. The French Gift is a superb example of a story that works to illuminate both the harshest moments in our history books and the most spellbinding pockets of the war, where a great deal of faith was needed to overcome this dark time.
Hats off and bravo yet again to Kirsty Manning, The French Gift is a tremendous novel. Five stars from me!
The French Gift by Kirsty Manning was published on 30th March 2021 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The French Gift, Kirsty Manning, visit here.
*Thanks extended to Allen & Unwin for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The French Gift is book #67 of the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge