ALL THAT WE HAVE LOST
2019. When Imogen Wren’s husband dies, she must realise their dream of moving to France on her own. She finds a beautiful abandoned chateau and starts to rebuild her life among its ruins. But she soon notices that the locals won’t come near. A dark web of secrets surrounds the house, and it all seems to centre on the war…
1944. Since the moment German troops stepped foot in her village, the sole aim of Simone Varon’s life has been to avoid them. Until one soldier begins leaving medicine bottles for her sick brother, and she gets to know the man behind the uniform. Then the Resistance comes calling, and she must choose between love and duty – with devastating consequences that will echo through the decades.
As Imogen restores the chateau, she’s determined to uncover the truth – and set to rest the ghosts of the past.
Suzanne writes historical fiction, predominantly dual timeline and set in France. Her books feature courageous women in extraordinary circumstances, with love and family at the heart of all the stories.
Suzanne was a bookworm as a child and this naturally progressed to wanting to write her own stories. It wasn’t until she was on maternity leave with her fourth child, that she thought it was now or never and finally managed to write a complete novel. Having joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association under their New Writers’ Scheme, writing then as Sue Fortin, she sent her manuscript off for a critique.
After another year of working on the novel, Suzanne self-published United States of Love – a contemporary romance. This was then picked up by a traditional publisher, HarperCollins and under their imprint Harper Impulse (now One More Chapter) this book was republished. Writing as Sue Fortin, another seven books in the romantic suspense genre were published with HarperCollins.
More recently, Sue has moved to writing historical fiction and publishes under the name of Suzanne Fortin, with her debut in this genre, The Forgotten Life of Arthur Pettinger released in early 2021 with Head of Zeus imprint, Aria Fiction.
A self-confessed Francophile, Suzanne has a home in the Morbihan region of France and visits as often as she can with her husband and family. The region has been a huge inspiration for Suzanne’s books and is often the backdrop to her writing.
Suzanne was born in Hertfordshire but had a nomadic childhood, moving often with her family, before eventually settling in West Sussex.
Married with four children and two grandchildren – when not behind the keyboard, Suzanne likes to spend her time with them, enjoying both the coast and the South Downs, between which they are nestled.
A keen amateur photographer, Suzanne’s favourite place to hang out on social media is Instagram.
Visit Suzanne at her website
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“Papa always told us that to be brave doesn’t mean you have no fear, it just means you can move forwards in spite of that fear. I never truly understood what he meant when I was younger. It wasn’t the sort of fear of being told off for arguing with my younger brother, Pierre, or for being late getting up, or for daydreaming of playing my flute in an orchestra when I should be concentrating on my schoolwork. No, that’s not the sort of fear Papa meant. He was talking about the fear that makes the heart race, that quickens the pulse, makes sweat gather in the armpits and the hairs prickle on the back of the neck. The fear that bunches up the stomach, tightens itself, so there is a constant feeling of sickness, almost a pain”
“Imogen gazed without focus into the depths of her locker. So, now she knew why there was a saying about eavesdroppers never hearing any good of themselves. She had no idea the other women in the office felt that way about her”
“She’d been big on scrapbooking in her before life, never in life after James though. No one needed to record the utter grief and heartbreak so they could look back at it in years to come, just to relive those days when life couldn’t possibly be any darker and the future looked an impossible fantasy”
“It somehow made her feel closer to him and she relished that connection but, of course, it also hurt like hell. And that was the thing about losing someone, the pain and grief suffocated the love and memories”
“I studied the man in front of me. It was hard to see beyond the uniform and not see the German soldier, part of the occupying force, but if I looked closer there was a man, a person, someone with compassion and empathy standing there”
“Sometimes, the art of winning is not one big demonstrative action, but many small actions, continuous actions – on their own they seem insignificant, but together they amount to something meaningful”
“Papa always told us that to be brave doesn’t mean you have no fear.
It just means you can move forwards in spite of that fear”
Okay! So, after checking out a few of the early reviews, I had my tissues at the ready before I began reading this book. However, apart from one or two ‘misty eyed’ moments, they weren’t really needed, as although this story was undoubtedly sad at the outset, by the time it reached its conclusion, I felt only uplifted in spirit and full of hope for Imogen and Laurent’s future happiness, with a past laid carefully to rest.
I do also try to never judge a book by its cover, but how could anyone resist such an amazing richness of colour and a sense of time and place. This one is certainly going to stand out amongst its contemporaries on the bookshop shelves!
All That We Have Lost, is a well structured and beautifully rendered, dual timeline love story with a mystery, set in the same small Brittany town of 1944 and 2019. It is broken down into bite-sized, alternating dateline chapters which are well signposted and easy to follow, and is narrated in the first person by Simone and Imogen, as they each tell their own stories. In a town which has changed relatively little in the intervening years between visits and still boasts a large number of generational families still living there, the two strands of the story weave seamlessly together beautifully, if somewhat painfully, into a whole new chapter which will be secure into the future.
Whilst this is very much a story which features two strong, brave and determined female protagonists, I did find myself favouring Simone’s recollections of a 1944, small provincial town which has been occupied by invading German forces, who have made the local chateau their headquarters, but who have no respect for its history and heritage. She discovers that The Resistance has a very healthy presence in the town, to which she is recruited, when it transpires that she will be required to visit the chateau regularly as part of the German officers “entertainment” evenings, as she is a more than competent flautist. Unfortunately, Simone is also set to lose her heart to the enemy, when she realises that not all German officers are cruel, or condone the actions of many of their comrades. Max has long since decided that not only does “warfare make strange bedfellows”, but it can also make monsters, so he must ultimately decide whether he is prepared to lay down his life for duty or love.
Imogen’s story is a wonderfully sympathetic foil for Simone’s story, when, still recovering from a recent heartbreak of her own, she arrives in this same provincial town, some 70 years later and falls in love with the abandoned and derelict Tredion Chateau, where she decides to make a new beginning for herself, unaware of the vitriol and visceral bad feeling the place stirs in the local population. Matters are brought to a climax when Imogen discovers that her heart can also be tamed and her life transformed, by Laurent Roussell, a local man who has been all but ostracised by those with long memories, who can recall his family connection with Simone Varon and a German soldier. Once they both open up, confront their emotions and lay bare their innermost thoughts, Imogen and Laurent make it their mission to unravel the secrets of the past and set the record straight about Simone’s part in the occupation, thus paving the way for a reconciliation between Laurent and his silent accusers and finally laying the ghosts of the past to rest, freeing the chateau from its curse.
Those are just the bare bones of this compelling, well structured, multi-layered storyline, which has so much to offer, but no more ‘spoilers’ from me! In many respects it represents a fictional eye into the social history and culture of a place where time has stood still for many of its inhabitants. It is rich in atmosphere, emotionally evocative and beautifully textured, presenting a lesson which transcends time, about things not being what they might seem at first sight and how we shouldn’t be too ready to jump to conclusions. The writing is perceptive, fluent and immersive, with a great visuality and depth taking me right to the heart of the action, in this very three dimensional saga, where characters, plot and location, all play an equally important role.
Suzanne has created a well drawn and developed cast of characters, who have been given a strong and commanding voice with which to tell their story, with just the merest of ‘hands on’ touches from their creator. Strong, courageous, resilient and determined female characters are at the heart of both stories, but they are also women of compassion, fortitude and heart. Often complex and emotional, raw and passionate, vulnerable and searching for a sense of belonging; but always genuine, believable and authentic. Even when some of the characters were less than open, honest and truthful, they were still easy to connect with, relate to and invest in, as their motives were never malicious or duplicitous.
This book definitely ticks all the right boxes for the reasons I read and how I want to feel when I have finished the last word and closed that final page. Thank you for taking me on an amazing journey, Suzanne.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars!