Review: The Picture Book by Jo Baker

The Picture Book

by Jo Baker

Set against the rolling backdrop of a century of British history from the First World War to today, this is an intimate family portrait captured in snapshots. First there is William, the factory lad who loses his life in Gallipoli, then his son Billy, a champion cyclist who faces the D-Day Landings on a military bicycle, followed by his crippled son Will, who becomes an Oxford academic in the 1960’s, and finally his daughter Billie, an artist in contemporary London. Just the names – William, Billy, Will, Billie – echo through the generations, so too the legacy of choices made, chances lost, and secrets kept.

Rich in drama and sensuous in detail, The Picture Book is a beautifully crafted  story about parents and children, about fate and repetition, and about the possibility of breaking free.

This is a great family saga spreading across decades, and following the namesake’s of the first William. William never met his child and died when he was only married a short time. His son Billy struggled with the ‘legend’ that was his brave father who died a war hero, who his mother was never able to release into the past. Billy, a champion cyclist then fathered Will, who was born with what we would suspect to be hip dysplasia, Will was born after a still birth that his parents never got over, so he did have his own issues with his father constantly feeling disappointed in him, some of these issues are issues of guilt that are expressed as disappointed due to a few events that occurred in Billy’s life at war.

The story then follows Will has he grows, manages to secure a scholarship, falls in love, marries and has Wilhemenia (Billie), the story explores people’s weaknesses and desires, the author has been careful not to take sides but to explain what is happening in the central characters lives.

Billie is introduced toward the end of the book, she has a wonderful relationship with her grandparents, Will and Ruby and flees to the saftey of their nest at least once, while she decides how to approach her own life.

There is a central ‘villian’ who knew the original William in the war, he pops up from time to time, and in his own way affects each of the characters lives as they come across him.

I really enjoyed this book, but felt it was a bit rushed in parts, and that at times the characters lacked depth.

Favourite Quote: ‘I will always catch you. I will always keep you safe.’ Page 231.

Published by: Portobello Books (via Allen and Unwin)

Recommended Retail Price $27.99

Recommended Age: 18+

My Rating: 3.5/5

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