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Charlotte Gray [Paperback]

Sebastian Faulks
2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 7 1999
IN 1942, Charlotte Gray, a young scottish woman, goes to Occupied France on a dual mission:to run an apparantly simple errand for a British special operations group and to search for her lover, an English airman called Peter Gregory, who has gone missing in action. In the small town of Lavaurette, Sebastian Faulks presents a microcosm of France and its agony in 'the black years', here is the full range of collaboration, from the tacit to the enthusiastic, as well as examples of extraordinary courage and altruism. Through the local resistance chief Julien, Charlotte meets his father a Jewish painter whose inspiration has failed him. In Charlotte's friendship with both men, Faulks opens up the theme of false memory and of paradises—both national and personal—that appear irredeemably lost. In a series of shocking narrative climaxes in which the full extent of French collusion in the Nazi holocaust is delineated, Faulks brings the story to a resolution of redemptive love. In the delicacy of its writing, the intimacy of its characterisation and its powerful narrative scenes of harrowing public events, Charlotte Gray is a worthy successor to Birdsong.

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From Publishers Weekly

Readers of the bestseller Birdsong may hope that Faulks's third novel will furnish another mesmerizing narrative with a piercing love story and the kinds of details that vitalized his descriptions of life in the trenches during WWII. Although this novel does not, sadly, equal its predecessor in terms of seductive readability, its setting in occupied France during WWII and its depiction of the sentiments that motivated many Frenchmen to identify emotionally with the Germans rather than their longtime foe, Britain, grants the story intrinsic interest. But Faulks falters when he asks us to believe that pragmatic young Scotswoman Charlotte Gray is so transformed by her love for RAF airman Peter Gregory that she determines to parachute into France to find him after he disappears on a mission somewhere in the Free Zone. Disguising her motivation, she volunteers for the government's secret G-Section, where her uncanny talent for memorizing documents, her nerves of steel and her equanimity when parachuting into Occupied France after scant training may leave readers incredulous. Even more problematic is Charlotte's sense of transcendent mission, her mystical feeling, stressed again and again, that she has received "a call" to find Peter, and that her work for the Resistance is a "compelling urgency of personal and moral force" that will "change my life.. save my soul... and save [France's] soul as well." In evoking the mood and atmosphere of 1942-1943 France, however, Faulks provides the nuanced detail that invests the novel with authenticity, irony and pathos. Charlotte's dangerous maneuvers as she meets Resistance members and integrates herself into the village of Lavaurette, and the alternating chapters that reveal Peter's predicament, are genuinely absorbing. When Faulks introduces two small Jewish boys who are left behind in the village when their parents are deported, their heartrending situation adds tension. Yet Faulks undermines these effective scenes with a plot device that fizzles: veiled hints about Charlotte's "betrayal and violation" by her father when she was a child. Despite the psychological inconsistencies, however, in the end, it is the convincing settings?the wartime London singles scene, the old boy spy network, and daily life in an ideologically and politically divided France?that shape dramatic immediacy.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Shortly after the death of a surrogate father figure in a French internment camp in occupied France, Charlotte notes "that her emotions could not encompass the complexity of feeling that the circumstances seemed to demand." It is a comment that can be applied to the book itself. As a story about the power of love, it uplifts the spirit. As a story of the dispassionate evil of the Nazis, it brings tears to the eyes. As a story about ordinary people struggling to survive, it arouses admiration, understanding, and revulsion. Charlotte is a young Scotswoman who travels to London and falls for an RAF pilot. When he crashes in France, Charlotte wrangles her way into the British secret service in order to find him. If the scenario seems a bit overwrought, it is. But then new love often is. Faulks (Birdsong, LJ 1/96) has written one of those rare books that is adventurous enough to attract a popular audience while thoughtful enough to sustain the more serious reader. Highly recommended.
-?David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, FL
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

2.9 out of 5 stars
2.9 out of 5 stars
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A different perspective to World War II Nov. 1 2001
Format:Paperback
I finished reading Charlotte Gray last night and I woke this morning trying to understand it. I am not sure I understand, still, the narrative relationship of the story of a young, somewhat naive, Scottish girl to that of a group of French villagers struggling to survive under Vichy France. I have not understood Faulks message here.
However, this is nevertheless a marvellous book because it presents an aspect of World War II that I had never really thought about before. I was quite ignorant of the complicity of the French towards their German occupiers. This was quite shocking to me. I wish the whole book was set in Vichy and that we did not have to deal with the storyline of Charlotte and Peter Gregory. The real heart of the novel is the story of the Levades and the story of occupied France. I recommend this book to anyone who would be interested in a different insight to the war.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Charlotte Gray (a lot of nothing ?) Oct. 21 2001
Format:Paperback
I read Birdsong and enjoyed it. I bought Charlotte Grey hoping for more of the same but was dissapointed. After reading it I was left thinking "what was it all about" ? I think the author has a funny style of writing in that he goes into great detail about things that appear unimportant (even irrelvant) but skips by things which are central to the story (like the capture of the children). In the book the death of the old man in the camp is dealt with in less than a page after being a key character throughout. Whilst reading it I was constanly waiting for something (anything) to happen but sadly it naver did and in the end it fizzled out like a damp firework. I intended to buy the third book in the trilogy but after Charlotte Gray I don't think I'll bother. In summary the book was a lot about nothing
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Heroine of Emotion and Intelligence June 25 2001
Format:Paperback
Sebastian Faulks gives us a heroine to admire in the title character of Charlotte Gray, a Scottish-English woman drawn into covert intrigue in World War II France.
Charlotte, like so many ordinary people, is made remarkable by the war and situations that would be wholly uncommon in peacetime. Her personal resolve to be directly useful to the war effort prompts her to leave her job as a secretary and to become an undercover operative for the British in France.
However, it's not the secret identities and undercover maneuverings that most convince the reader of Charlotte's heroism. It's her intense involvement with RAF pilot Peter Gregory who goes missing in action. Without sentimentalizing, she sees her feelings for Gregory as transcendent and is willing to see it through to the end.
It's a crazy thing to persist in love in the middle of the war and in the midst of being an undercover operative. Readers well recognize the romantic cliché of women waiting for their lost men. In Charlotte however, our faith is renewed, our jadedness set aside.
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2.0 out of 5 stars A love story? No way Aug. 22 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I thought this book was so good at the begining and enjoyed the first few chapters but then what happened????? She ends up in France looking for some guy she met a few times and it's meant to be some wonderful love story. Who cares! Boring, boring, boring........
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1.0 out of 5 stars Dull, dull, dull June 7 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This was very dull reading. I had to force myself to finish it. The love story is not at all compelling and the two lovers never had an interesting conversation. With all the opportunities for suspense in this book, there is none. In France, Charlotte disobeys orders to return to England and spends the money alloted her by the SOE on new clothes and panties for herself, instead of helping people in the Resistance. It makes the SOE look incompetent when they praise her for doing a good job. The token "snitch" in the French village is a cliché character. The Jewish story did not work, and Charlotte's hanging out in front of the concentration camp was ludicrous. I suspect this was a "bottom-of-the-drawer" manuscript that the author submitted after the success of "Birdsong." I hope the movie will be better than the book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Poetic Ciphers June 1 2001
Format:Paperback
There seems to be a great deal of fiction and films being produced about the Second World War at the moment, and the one challenge in such fictions is how to be distinctive from the rest. 'Pearl Harbour', like some other Hollywood films, seems to make it up as it goes along, and appears quite inauthentic, no matter how entertaining. The Second World War is a subject matter that seems far better handled by literary novelists who have a vested interest in getting the historical details right, if Charlotte Gray and Captain Corelli's Mandolin are anything to go by. Indeed, Charlotte Gray is being made into a film as I write, and will hopefully be just as authentic in celluloid.
Charlotte Gray is a young Scottish woman who sets off to do her bit by working in a London surgery. On the train, she encounters English golfers Cannerley and Morris. Cannerley seems a bit smitten by Charlotte and decides to chat to her, even giving her his phone number. Events are set in motion when Charlotte reveals that she's fluent in French, and it becomes obvious that Cannerley and Morris are involved in work of a somewhat secretive nature. When Charlotte is out socialising at a literary party in London, she meets RAF pilot Peter Gregory. Unbeknownst to each other, they fall in love. For Charlotte, this isn't a source of great happiness, and Gregory is a little unsure of himself too. Charlotte just knows that she has an inconsolable yearning for Gregory. He is assigned to RAF duties in France, and so needs to brush up on his appalling French. Unfortunately, he does not really take this opportunity to get even closer to Charlotte. Instead, he takes to learning French from the books of Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
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