“‘Who was your dad?’ is a question I’ve never been able to answer. Never thought I could answer, with any kind of certainty. It was an unresolved wound, a painful longing, as mysterious as death and all the stories in one life someone takes with them when they go”.
At age 38, Louisa Deasey has almost given up hope of finding out any more about her father. Denison Deasey passed away just days before Louisa’s seventh birthday, and Louisa quickly learned not to say his name, sensing the deep pain and guilt her mother felt over his death, and fearing she might ‘make something explode’ by asking for details about her father.
Growing up, Louisa picked up bits and pieces from casual comments made by relatives, but their tone was generally disapproving and ashamed. Apparently, Denison had squandered his money on European travel, wasted his writing talents, and lived a chaotic and unstable life, yet Louisa’s few memories of her father were filled with love, and she had trouble reconciling this with the mercurial figure her family described.
Years have passed, however, and Louisa has learned to live with the pain of questions unresolved – that is, until one summer’s night in 2016, when she receives a Facebook message from a Parisian woman named Coralie. Coralie’s grandmother Michelle has recently passed away, and in cleaning out her apartment, Coralie has stumbled upon a stack of letters chronicling Michelle’s passionate love affair with one Denison Deasey in heady post-WWII London.
As Coralie and Louisa correspond, Louisa’s desire to find out more about her father resurfaces, and it’s not long before she’s set on a trail of discovery that takes her from the libraries of Melbourne to the cafes of Paris, to a poet’s home in the south of France. Will her journey raise more questions than it answers, or will she finally be able to piece together a proper portrait of her father, and patch up the unseen wounds she’s carried all her life?
Louisa Deasey’s A Letter from Paris, which is her second memoir, makes for truly enthralling reading. Louisa’s writing is raw, intimate and unpretentious, and she shares her experiences in such a way that the reader is invested from page one.
As Louisa begins to delve into her father’s history and unearths his old journals and letters, the book becomes a captivating blend of past and present, and Denison’s letters bring post-war Europe and Australia into vivid focus. Denison genuinely did have a fascinating life, rubbing shoulders with all manner of notable writers and artists, and it’s a delight to run into Arthur Boyd, Manning Clark and a young Barry Humphries in his letters and diaries, too.
Beyond this rich historical detail, A Letter from Paris offers some important truths about the complexity of family, about the pain that can come from secrets, and about the healing power of reclaiming and sharing true stories.
Sometimes fact really is better than fiction, and there’s no better example than this beautiful book.
About the author:
Louisa Deasey is a Melbourne-based writer who has published widely, including in Overland, Vogue, The Australian, and The Saturday Age. Her first memoir, Love and Other U-Turns, was nominated for the Nita B. Kibble Award for women writers. A Letter from Paris is her second non-fiction book.