There’s a moment in Stephanie Butland’s The Woman in the Photograph, when protagonist Veronica Moon is remembering Leonie Barratt, a woman at the forefront of the women’s movement and the friend who changed her life.

She says, ‘We let her down because we didn’t see that she was right. If we had listened to her more closely, we might not be where are now. … in a world of Me Too and women’s reproductive rights being rolled back … We might have closed the gender pay gap by now. We might have men who can look after a baby without the world treating them as though they are superheroes.’ It’s a great summation of where we’re at now – and also quite frankly a lot to put on the shoulders of one woman, no matter how great she might be.

At the heart of Butland’s ambitious tale is the friendship between two women. ‘Vee’ and Leonie meet in 1968, when the former is a junior photographer and ventures to Essex to see firsthand the picket line at Dagenham Ford Factory. Leonie is passionate, mouthy, loyal and unlike anyone Vee’s met before.

Through multiple timelines, exhibition notes and other plot devices, we see the women’s movement and feminist history unfold over a period of fifty years, and the events that lead Vee to become a relative recluse in the mid-1980s after taking a photograph that comes to define her career.

At a time when reproductive rights, sexual misconduct and pay and job inequality are just some of the matters of focus, novels like the very readable The Woman in the Photograph, celebrating key moments in our past and present, are all the more essential. And I cannot tell you what a pleasure it is personally to see so many credible, well-written books by women being published, across genres, focusing on our history, feminism, equality and other issues that still lamentably need addressing.

And still we rise.


Stephanie Butland | The Woman in the Photograph| Zaffre|11 July 2019 | paperback original | £7.99 | ebook also available

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Acknowledgements: Book text quotes © Stephanie Butland 2019. Many thanks to the publisher for sending a review copy of the book. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved.


Also of interest:We should all be feminists‘; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’;Changing the narrative: The Red Word; ‘Candy Denman’s #YouToo;By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept’; ‘Permission by Saskia Vogel‘; ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised‘; ‘Helga Flatland’s study of A Modern Family’;  ‘The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone’; ‘Blood Orange’; ‘Lisa Ko’s The Leavers, Dialogue’s brilliant debut; ‘RW Kwon’s The Incendiaries’; ‘Beauty in translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s French Canadian noir‘; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”‘; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love); ‘Vanda Symon; ‘Some like it hot – the joy of Carole Mortimer, award-winning novelist‘; Gina Kirkham’

This review is © 2019 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.