Charlotte Gray

Sebastian Faulks, Author Random House (NY) $24.95 (399p) ISBN 978-0-375-50169-2
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. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/01/1999
Release date: 02/01/1999
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-375-40598-3
Hardcover - 393 pages - 978-0-09-178442-3
Hardcover - 592 pages - 978-0-7089-9078-0
Paperback - 512 pages - 978-0-09-939431-0
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-0-676-58149-2
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-0-375-70455-0
Compact Disc - 978-0-7540-5438-2
Analog Audio Cassette - 14 pages - 978-0-7540-0395-3
Open Ebook - 512 pages - 978-1-4070-5259-5
Show other formats
The Best Books, Emailed Every Week
Tip Sheet!