1998 – “Charlotte Gray” by Sebastian Faulkes

Charlotte Gray is one of a few books which Sebastian Faulkes has set in WW2 but which don’t seem to be connected. The best known of these is Birdsong which I have read but which has now totally escaped my memory. This book is set in 1942 where our eponymous heroine is chosen to be a special operative because of her fluent French. She will be flown to France and landed secretly to take items to agents already embedded in the community and working with the Resistance and then she will return to England. But Charlotte’s lover has recently disappeared in occupied France so she rejects the trip home and sets out to find him.

Charlotte is in the area of France which is self-governing during this period but under the control of the Germans and the author creates characters and situations to show that many French people were in support of the Nazis, some were informers and that the authorities of the area were diligent in seeking out and sending Jews to Germany above and beyond what their invaders required. I have to say that the events which happen in the village when Charlotte is there seem designed to inform the reader about the history of the time and I felt little connection with the characters even though their stories were often tragic.

Charlotte seems detached from what is going on around her and completely unworried about her own personal jeopardy. She never seems in any danger at all although she travels freely around the country. Everyone around her is in personal danger and suffers acutely but she appears to be obsessed with her lover Peter and to be invulnerable. Even when she discovers the tragic fate of some of those she has been involved with she seems to dismiss it because her own search is all important.

I had little time for Charlotte and was irritated by her attitude. I didn’t feel that the other characters were believable and thought that the author was using their personal stories primarily to say something about occupied France at this time. The book dragged for me and because I wasn’t gripped I found it hard going. It was a struggle to finish it. I have read a novel by Mary Doria Russell called A Thread of Grace set in the same area at this time which is about the fate of the Jews and the Resistance which I found absolutely compelling and which I would recommend instead of this book.

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