“Never Anyone But You,” Rupert Thomson’s 11th novel, is the story the Surrealist artists Claude Cahun (born Lucie Schwob) and Marcel Moore (born Suzanne Malherbe). Cahun and Moore are historical figures known for their photographs and writing as well as for brave acts of resistance during World War II.
Thomson puts their tale into the mouth of Moore, who recounts the fierce love that connected the two women and underpinned their artistic explorations and anti-fascist activities. Her narrative is one of passion, jealousy, fear, and steadfastness in the face of challenges from both within and without their relationship.
While many artists from the period make appearances —s ome extended and central to the story; others more like cameos — Thomson does not focus his (or his narrator’s) attention on the art the couple and their contemporaries create. We get a sense of Cahun and Moore’s photography, including Cahun’s exploration of gender and its limits and possibilities, but by and large the book’s central preoccupation is on the nature and consequences of love in a life lived both authentically and unconventionally.
Late in the novel, Thomson skillfully sidesteps a maudlin sentimentality as Moore recounts her long widowhood. Her friendship with a young man who dotes on her as though she were his beloved mother or grandmother is imbued with significant emotional heft that further illuminates the novel’s primary relationship. In “Never Anyone But You,” Thomson pulls back a curtain of privacy, genius, and idiosyncratic love to introduce us to two extraordinary women and their imperishable bond.