Thompson, Rupert. “Never Anyone But You”, Other Press, 2018.
As many of you know, I read a lot. With that I must say that every once in a while a book comes along that knocks me out in the first sentence. Rupert Thompson’s “Never Anyone But You” did just that. In fact, I just closed the covers and I am still reeling because this is so much more than a book, it is a total experience and a literary tour de force. The story is based on the real-life love affair of two women and their story is one of the surrealist movement in Paris and the horrors of the world wars.
Before World War I, Suzanne Mahlerbe, a shy 17 year old who loves to draw and has the talent to do meets Lucie Schwob, the daughter of Jewish intellectuals when by chance they both happened to be in a provincial town in France. Suzanne is totally entranced Lucie and her brilliance. They begin a clandestine love affair all the while terrified that they will be discovered and then everyone is surprised when the mother of one marries the father of the other. Because they are “sisters”, they are finally free of suspicion, but desirous of somewhere that is more stimulating than the provinces. They move to Paris at a time of uneasiness when art, literature, and politics are explosive and war is on the horizon.
They themselves as Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore and enter the most glamorous social circles and meet the who’s who of the art and literary worlds. The two women produce provocative photographs that are still considered as such nowadays. Then in the 1930s, the rise of anti-Semitism and fascism caused them to they leave Paris for the island of Jersey where they create a campaign of propaganda against Hitler’s occupying forces that will put lives in jeopardy including their own. This is a love story about real people who played a part in history that had Rupert Thompson not written this book we would not have known about.
The story spans several decades and we meet the Paris Surrealists, go to Nazi-occupied Jersey, learn of heroic acts of resistance, and are part of an intense and forbidden love. Here is a story of a great
collaborative partnership formed by two brave women who dared to resist.
I particularly loved the emotion we feel when reading about Suzanne and Claude’s relationship since it wonderfully describes how it feels to love someone more than they love themselves and more than what seemed possible. We feel both the anguish and triumph of love without boundaries. This is my first Rupert Thompson book but it I certainly not going to remain alone. I found some kind of magic in his prose and I am to read whatever I can find by him.