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If you strip this novel down to its central storyline it s about a young woman who goes to France primarily to find her airman boyfriend who s missing in action In France she gets amorously involved with another man She contributes nothing to the war effort She s not even in touch with London In other words you could say it s hugely disrespectful to the enormous bravery and dedication of the real female SOE agents who certainly didn t go to France for amorous reasons These agents all belonged to a circuit and were highly disciplined They weren t swanning around in France looking for love This part of the novel is pure chick lit.Secondly there s way too much research in this novel Characters become talking heads and are often there merely to provide a commentary on the wider picture of what s going on in France The focus suddenly shifts from Charlotte s love life and her non existent SOE responsibilities to the plight of the Jews His attempt at covering so much ground left me feeling all the various aspects of this book were thin and without emotional power This part of the novel is aligned to non fiction Add to that incongruous lengthy meditations on Proust and art and Freud and what you have is an ill disciplined meandering novel that lacks focus and a sense of reality No surprise the film tightened up the plot even though the film isn t a patch on the older SOE films like Carve her name with Pride and Odette A poor show from Faulkes whose Birdsong I really enjoyed The only thing I will say for it is that it s inspired me to read some non fiction about female SOE agents working in France. I had mixed feelings about this book It shares many similarities with Birdsong, lovers, war, etc etc The language is gorgeous, Faulks writes in a way that really engages the you You feel as though you really know Charlotte, you almost feel what she feels For me it felt as if all that was missing from this novel was a good story For huge sections of the novel nothing happens at all Faulks has seemed to have just focused on the travelling between places and writing out many conversations in which Charlotte describes, and in my view, exaggerates her love for Gregory She seems to view love as one person exploiting another through a wound Read into that what you will And I guess one could agree with her Charlotte is a strange character, at points in the book she seems very wise and strong willed, and at others almost infantile I think beneath it all she is still a child and seeks from Gregory the love that was never rarely bestowed on her as a child That s another thing I dislike about this book, it s transparency The ending is obvious from the moment you open the book All the other components everything but the story however, were perfect If you read this expecting another Birdsong, you will probably, like me, be disappointed. Even though I greatly enjoyed the majority of this British lass battles the Nazis in France novel, I have to say that after turning the final page I m somewhat disappointed It s a really good book and I wouldn t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who wanted an incredibly well written tale of recent history But still, it s far from perfect and I ll confess that, as I was working my way into it over the first hundred pages or so, there were moments when I was tempted to just hurl it against a wall and give up the whole thing as a bad lot.The main problem, certainly in the opening sections, is Charlotte Gray herself The character we re introduced to as opposed to the one she develops into is like a wet weekend a kind of mournful and dour presence that you wish would just go away It s never great when a reader wants the central character and the title character, to boot to just sod off Her fairly joyless presence even has the odd effect of making the London sections at the beginning of this novel seem flat and less than convincing particularly strange as Faulks actually lives in this city Once Charlotte is flown across enemy lines, however, the novel picks up tremendously The French sections are brilliantly done combining an unflinching view of life during wartime and the worst of what man is capable of with a positive recognition of individual courage and camaraderie in the face of seemingly overwhelming force On the other side of The Channel, Charlotte herself becomes a dynamic character and the book goes with her, creating a tale which brings out passion, outrage and suspense, but never dips far into melodrama.Unfortunately that isn t sustained right to the finish line, as the ending is somewhat flabby and inconsequential So what I really like about this book is the middle, and that s fine I ve read other tales of wartime derring do that don t manage as much in their entire length as Faulks does in the middle of Charlotte Gray So, it s a book I have reservations about, but one that I for the most part thoroughly enjoyed. It s not you, it s me the classic break up phrase is an apt resolution marking my falling out of enchantment with what is called The French Trilogy I had an easy time giving praise to The Girl of the Lion d Or and I have rated Songbird a masterpiece one of the best literary accounts of the Great War In trying to pin down what didn t work this time, I m reminded how much what I m writing here is a matter of personal opinion, and not an attempt at objective literary citicism Charlotte Gray was off to a good start with a wartime romance in London between a composed, cool headed Scottish girl and a borderline suicidal pilot who survived the Battle of Britain hectic days The prose was every bit as good as the previous novels, but it was no longer enough to keep me glued to the page as the action moved over to France I disliked in particular the inconsistencies in Charlotte motivations, who moves like a clueless puppett from one location to another, from one mission to another, as a pretext to examine another aspect of life under the Vichy governement than as a natural progression from previous events The real protagonist of the novel becomes the French society as a whole, a meticulous study based on flawless research that makes the book read almost as non fiction but also underlines the weakness in holding to a coherent plot line that if I m honest the other two books are also guilty of The romantic angle is basically forgotten and the focus shifts to the plight of the Jews under the Vichy government a tale that needs to be told but one that the author deals with in an uncharacteristic heavy handed manner, alternating between long winded political explanations and melodramatic tearjerker scenes.Most of the quotes I did select from the book deal with Charlotte s personality and with an outlook on art from the perspective of Levade a World War I veteran who tries to exorcise his demons through painting Regarding Charlotte, towards the end Faulks gives a hint that her hesitations, mood swings and illogical decisions were deliberate an relevant to her characterThe human desire for neatness would always ultimately be defeated by the chaos of the mind s own truths Behind the calm exterior, the girl is supposed to be fighting a desperate battle against depression, searching for a lost innocence and for a cause worthy of all her enthusiasmDepression though that seemed a limp word for the storm of black panic and half demented malfunction had over the years worked itself out in Charlotte s life in a curious pattern Its onset was often imperceptible like an assiduous housekeeper locking up a rambling mansion, it noiselessly went about and turned off, one by one, the mind s thousand small accesses to pleasure The passion for the pilot, Peter Gregory, gets mixed in her mind with her passion for French culture As a side note this interest in the French society is centered on the works of Marcel Proust, probably as a reference to the paradise Charlotte herself lost Proust is one of the major themes on Goodreads in 2013, so apparently I joined in the group by accident The conflation of the two themes seemed forced to my mind, another pretext that serves the author s goals but doesn t quite scan on the logical metricI have this one chance to change my life, to save my soul, and whether I can do that depends for some reason I don t yet understand on whether you can save your country s soul as well With the next quote a conversation between Levade and Charlotte I try to make the transition from the girl s passion driven outlook to the abstract and philosophical atitude of the painterAre you wise enough to know that the problems of lovers seem to everyone else in the world, especially to their friends, like comic self indulgence, like the antics of fretful children If at the one moment in your life when the chance of something transcendental is offered you, if you have this chance to move beyond the surface of things, to understand, and you say, No, maybe not, it s just a bore to my friends What then How do you explain the rest of your life to yourself How do you pass the time until you die Do you substitute for that an interest in what eating Do you spend the next sixty years trying to be fascinated by the act of breathing Levade comes close to reconcile me with the perceived shortcomings of the novel, as he himself struggles to open channels of communication with his son, a fighter in the Resistance, and to fit together the pieces of a world gone mad in the trenches of VerdunLike language, art struggles with what is common, to disturb the individual habit of perception and, by disturbing it, to enable men to see what has been lived and seen by others By upsetting, therefore, it tries to soothe, because it hopes to free each person from the tyranny of solitude In another dialogue with CharlotteDo you think all paradises are lost, that that s their nature I wouldn t say lost, said Levade, but they must be in the past What is present can t be imagined, and imagination is the only faculty we have for apprehending beauty For the closure, I will return to the issue of credibility What ticked me off about Charlotte Grey may be exactly what the author intended and what other readers will find masterfully executed Logic and clear cut situations are not what life is about, and peace of mind may come when we accept we are less than perfect vessels, fallible and ever in fluxLevade had told her that there was no such thing as a coherent human personality when you are forty you have no cell in your body that you had at eighteen It was the same, he said, with your character Memory is the only thing that binds you to earlier selves for the rest, you become an entirely different being every decade or so, sloughing off the old persona, renewing and moving on An interesting take on WWII from the point of view of agents who went into France to help the Resistance, but also a slightly odd romance novel Charlotte Gray, the main character, is a Scottish girl who comes to London in 1942 to do something for the war effort and almost by accident falls into working for a fictionalised version of Special Operations Executive SOE At the same time, she becomes obsessed with a daring airman, Peter Gregory, who also ends up flying missions for the same department, dropping supplies to resistence workers in France or picking up British operatives who are returning after missions When he goes missing on one of these flights, Charlotte, sent to France on her first mission, decides to look for him, and defies her orders to return home when she has completed her official duties.The book is in some respects a not altogether successful mixture of romance, psychology, espionage in WWII, French politics and the plight of the Jews in Nazi occupied Europe, with quite a bit of philosophy thrown in as a side order Charlotte is unsure for a long while whether she really loves Peter or has latched onto him because of her own psychological problems stemming from childhood At times she is a slightly irritating vacillating character with no will of her own, and her main role in the book seems to be to trot round France and show the reader various other characters and situations.However, other aspects of the book were interesting, such as the light thrown on the attitudes of the French to their German overlords and how some looked on collaboration and even occupation as a necessary evil to sort out problems they perceived with their country And the plight of the Jews, as seen through the tragic fates of an embittered artist in his 60s and two young boys whose parents have already been deported to the death camps, is heart rending Therefore, I found it an enjoyable read, while remaining well aware that it doesn t give a realistic portrayal of the real life work of the courageous SOE operatives. I found myself comparing this to other war titles by this author In both Birdsong and Where My Heart Used to Beat there were two timelines The look back at the war experience was an essential part of those novels This is a WWII novel, told entirely during war time Yes, there were two characters who had participated in The Great War, but there were only a few paragraphs telling how that war had wounded them, primarily psychologically.This involved civilian participation in the war Important is the French resistance, though it wasn t a resistance story in itself Those of us who haven t been living under a rock know about the deportation of Jews to concentration camps This novel gives us a historical view of the collaboration of the French government with Germany in this deportation process Although certainly not a political novel, the reader is told about the politics of the time in a way that I had been aware of only peripherally There is nothing essentially wrong with this story and the writing, but it falls short of what I hoped to read I missed having the dual timeline The main characters somehow misse being completely believable, while some of the minor characters are absolutely believable On the positive side, I was reminded of a quote in Elizabeth Strout s most recent novelYou ll write your one story many ways Don t ever worry about story You have only oneFaulks continues to remind us that war experiences have a ripple effect to subsequent generations This sits right on the fence between 3 and 4 stars. |READ PDF ☥ Charlotte Gray ⚖ From The Bestselling Author Of Birdsong Comes Charlotte Gray, The Remarkable Story Of A Young Scottish Woman Who Becomes Caught Up In The Effort To Liberate Occupied France From The Nazis While Pursuing A Perilous Mission Of Her OwnIn Blacked Out, Wartime London, Charlotte Gray Develops A Dangerous Passion For A Battle Weary RAF Pilot, And When He Fails To Return From A Daring Flight Into France She Is Determined To Find Him In The Service Of The Resistance, She Travels To The Village Of Lavaurette, Dyeing Her Hair And Changing Her Name To Conceal Her Identity Here She Will Come Face To Face With The Harrowing Truth Of What Took Place During Europe S Darkest Years, And Will Confront A Terrifying Secret That Threatens To Cast Its Shadow Over The Remainder Of Her Days Vividly Rendered, Tremendously Moving, And With A Narrative Sweep And Power Reminiscent Of His Novel Birdsong, Charlotte Gray Confirms Sebastian Faulks As One Of The Finest Novelists Working Today I thought that I would love this book The plot sounded wonderful Just the sort of thing that I would normally like It takes place in WWII, in France, with a Scottish girl playing spy in a little village But once her duties are over, she decided to stay in the village to try and seek out information about her lost lover, an English pilot who is MIA somewhere in France But something about the book just didn t click with me Charlotte s character seemed remote and rather boring I didn t find myself caring for her as much as I cared for the other characters, especially Julien And something about all the exciting and dramatic bits just seemed amateur to me, though I can t say why exactly Especially since I know that Mr Faulks is a well respected author and I ve still got his Birdsong on my list, despite not caring much for Charlotte Gray At times, too, the writing just felt overly long and dramatic I almost bowed out at the very beginning, reading for pages and pages about a pilot performing his duties All the excess description and detail was terribly boring But still, I won t say that it was all bad Julien was a wonderful, endearing character The history of France in WWII was well done, especially with the way Faulks showed how differently all the French people reacted to the Germans running their country I liked the book well enough, but I can t say any for it than that Not bad, but still rather simple and generic.Find book reviews at A Quick Red Fox. This is an interesting novel, but, in retrospect, I feel that it didn t have quite enough of a plot to justify the length of it I d have to say that it s a psychological novel that takes an awful long time to explore the psychology if its main protagonist and reach its resolution The incident of the Nazis and the Jews felt almost tacked on afterwards It didn t really fit in with the rest of the book, somehow The cover blurb describes this novel as harrowing and I read almost the entire book thinking to myself what s harrowing about this story When it finally came, I realised that you can t really write about that and make it just one incident in a book of this length The enormity of what happened to Andre and Jacob makes you wonder why Sebastian Faulkes could be bothered to write about Charlotte at all Years from now, I will probably remember Andre and Jacob and I will have forgotten everything else about the rather pallid Charlotte Gray. History is written by the victors and but between 1939 45 thanks to fluctuating fortunes France saw its recent history being rewritten, again and again, as she experienced, in turn, Conquest, Occupation, Collaboration, Resistance, Liberation and bloody Aftermath, involving a hostile and savage Reckoning It is impossible to approach any story set in WW2 without knowing the outcome but Sebastian Faulks succeeds in setting his tense and absorbing story against a backdrop of a dejected and defeated France, thrown into confusion and uncertainty, and into this demoralised and divided country he drops a somewhat timorous Charlotte Gray, his SOE agent who will prove to be brave and resourceful Recently recruited into the secret services, by a completely random meeting, and after the briefest rudimentary training, Charlotte Gray, one moonlit night parachutes into Occupied France, and must immediately look to her own devices, calling upon her innate powers of self preservation when faced by danger at every corner and must negotiate unexpected hazards whilst seeking willing assistance when doubt, and betrayal are all around her the unforeseen and unexpected confound the civilian population, torn between resistance and submission, hostility and collaboration, and forcing them to re evaluate their prospects, and reposition their immediate loyalties, as circumstances rapidly changed week by week during the conflict.I read the book for a second time, twenty years after completing my first reading, when, like many of the GR readership I was a little disappointed, having enjoyed both Girl at Lion d Or and Birdsong so much But this time I have read the novel differently, and understood Faulks preoccupation with the chaotic alliances and shifting allegiances of the French people The idea that the French people were united in resistance after the French forces were overrun in May 1940, is simplistic and misinformed Vast areas of France willingly embraced fascism rather than suffer the growing threat of Communism, and they saw the Occupation as a chance for France, under its Vichy Government, to preserve what was quintessentially French and so many French people came to identify emotionally with the Germans, even if they went to great pains to change the record in the aftermath This unpredictability of people made life for all SOE agents, and downed RAF aircrews incredibly difficult, as they struggled to identify friend or foe in the shifting sands of a France where individuals were caught up in events simulating responses, ranging from heroic and defiant, to subservient and accepting Everyone saw the conflict differently, and loyalties changed, as staying alive became the priority, making for impermanent alliances and fragile friendships Partisans might be to a smaller or greater degree Free French, Fascists, Gaullists or Communists, or a little of each, as they saw the situation changing, almost on a daily basis.The wide sweeping and visceral narrative, with a cast of vivid characters, pulls no punches and leaves the reader with dark deeds indelibly etched, but with redemption a possibility Raw and base emotions are laid bare, and intimacies shared, as each character is challenged by desperate situations not of their choosing The author creates in Lysander pilot, Peter Gregory a rather under stated airman, shy and retiring, withdrawn to the point of anonymity, so unlike the dashing young cavalier aircrews of Fighter Command, known so well through their exploits in the Battle of Britain He is surprised by his own delayed response to the affections of the inexperienced young Scottish girl, whose affections trouble him by breaking through his reserve and detachment, but whose love provides him with the will to survive No one does time and place better than Sebastian Faulks and, once again, his characterisation through this wartime conflict is spot on But I notice some readers find the naivety of Charlotte Gray rather insipid and annoying, and some plot lines implausible Not me Such criticism overlooks the complexity of the central character and the baggage she is carrying, traumatised by some disturbing event she suffered as a young teen betrayal and violation by her father and so she is emotionally repressed and, sexually inexperienced and confused She finds meaning in the company of strangers, and Faulks sees her as an innocent in an evil world Seldom alarmed but constantly on her guard she leads something of a charmed life, even persuading a respectable but slightly drunk German Officer to leave her room when he pursued her from the dining room of a provincial hotel In fact her survival looks improbable from the moment the suited clubbable gentlemen returning from some Golf on the Scottish links maybe identify her on the train south from Edinburgh, as a possible recruit to their clandestine world Successful penetration and integration within any community in rural France would have been very difficult, at any time during the conflict, and into this tense and impermanent world Charlotte Gray treads a difficult path, knowing one mistake will lead to her undoing and she will face the firing squad The immediacy of danger and the urgency of preserving life take her on a journey of self discovery, It made her laugh inside I m just a romantic girl who s come to find her lost lover, she thought, but they look at me as though I were a woman of fierce conviction, a person of unshakeable dedication in the fight for freedom She realises in a world of simulation that one s true identity is hidden from view but maybe to some extent you are what other people think you are.