Book Reviews

Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks

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List Price: £8.99

 

Paperback: 512 Pages.

Published: 01 July 1999 by Vintage

Edition: New Ed

ISBN: 0099394316

EAN: 9780099394310

In 1942, Charlotte Gray, a young scottish woman, goes to Occupied France on a dual mission: to run an apparently simple errand for a British special operations group and to search for her lover, an English airman who has gone missing in action.

Reviews

4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars4.0 Stars  by Anne

Elegant writing and plotting

Charlotte Gray is a story set in Vichy France during the Second World War. Charlotte is a young Scottish woman who is parachuted into France by a secret war department to assist the Resistance. When it is time to return she decides to stay and to search for her missing boyfriend, airman Peter, who has been shot down. She becomes involved in the happenings in the town of Lavaurette and the fate of its citizens as the Germans finally occupy the area.

This is a well researched historical novel. Sometimes it is a little too well researched. I got the feeling that the author had read about all the different reactions people had to what was happening in the this period and all the different things which happened to them and was determined to include all of this in his story. As a result, we have lots of different plot threads going on at the same time and we get to see the points of view of the resisters, the cowards, the collaborators, the Jews, the bigoted French, the occupying forces, etc. etc. It makes the story a rich tapestry of people and events but sometimes I felt that characters were only included in order to make sure that a particular point of view or a particular event was included. Despite this, the author does have the gift of writing real characters rather than stereotypes and he also does not hide from the tragic consequences of the German occupation for so many people or the questionable actions of some French people. One of the key themes of the book is betrayal, both in relationships and also on a larger scale. The depiction of the story of the Jewish children is significantly more moving and believable than that described in the recently popular "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas".

I never completely identified with Charlotte because I was not quite sure that I believed in her overwhelming love for Peter, I don't think that the early part of the book established this strongly enough. She is very much an observer of events rather than a participant. In fact, she sees a lot of what is happening in glimpses through a window, through a fence or by seeing the label of a suitcase. She doesn't actually affect events at all and you never feel that she is in danger personally. Because of that distance the reader too becomes an observer of the story rather than emotionally involved in it. There is a plot thread about something that has happened to Charlotte as a child which she cannot now remember and that has estranged her from her father. I do not think that this part of story really fitted in well with the book or added to it particularly unless the author meant for that to explain the strange detachment of Charlotte from other people and events.

The author writes beautifully with elegant prose and the plotting is clever, tying up loose ends and covering lots of different stories without losing the main themes of the book. This is a book to admire and even to enjoy but I do not feel that it is a book that you would love and want to return to again and again to revisit characters that you feel that you know.

3.0 Stars3.0 Stars3.0 Stars  by Debra Found

Needed some Editing

This is the first book by the quite reknowned author, Sebastian Faulksm that I have read. I have to say that I didn't feel that it was anything special.

Charlotte Gray is a scottish lady living during World War II. She meets some offical people on the train down to London to take up her new job as a DRs receptionist which finally leads her into joining section G & training to go over to France. During her time in London she meets & falls in love with Peter Gregory a pilot. He goes missing over France. When Charlotte gets sent to France for a simple interpreting job she refuses to go home & searches for Peter.

This is a book with many undercurrents & sub plots which I found needlessly complicating to the story. There is some deep psychological issue with her Father which doesn't seem to have any bearing upon the story & really doesn't warrant the time & energy spent on it. The storyline wanders of the point in quite a few places & becomes quite philosophical which irritated me - if I want philosophy I'll read a philosophy book, I don't want it in my fiction reading.

The first & last sections of the book are the best. It is the middle which wanders off. The descriptions of the transit camps are quite harrowing.

Charlotte as a character irritated me. She had only known this chap Peter for a few weeks before he disappeared and yet she decided to go AWOL in France to find him. Whilst the book tried to portray this as a romantic & virtuous thing to do I saw it as a very silly & dangerous thing to do. BY staying in France beyond her alotted time she put people in danger; as she did when travelling around France to find Peter. These people put their lives on the line for her and yet she gives that no thought. There is no doubt that had she not been thereĀ  some people would not have been taken by the Germans quite as soon as they were. She was a very selfish person who only thought of what she wanted in the long run.

I feel that this book needed some serious editing. Some of the sub plots needed to go altogether as did the philosophising.

Although Sebastian Faulks is held in high regards I wouldn't be seeking out another of his books now. However if I was given one then I'd probably give it a bash.

 
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