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Charlotte Gray

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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 own.

In 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.

401 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1998

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About the author

Sebastian Faulks

54 books1,906 followers
Sebastian Faulks was born in 1953, and grew up in Newbury, the son of a judge and a repertory actress. He attended Wellington College and studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, although he didn’t enjoy attending either institution. Cambridge in the 70s was still quite male-dominated, and he says that you had to cycle about 5 miles to meet a girl. He was the first literary editor of “The Independent”, and then went on to become deputy editor of “The Sunday Independent”. Sebastian Faulks was awarded the CBE in 2002. He and his family live in London.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 606 reviews
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,043 followers
March 7, 2016
Bewildered this has such a decent rating. Perhaps everyone forgot how heavy-handed, sloppy, rambling and sometimes absurd this was until about page 300 when it does markedly get better. But it irritated me with its patronising subtext of female subservience to romantic imperatives. As if all those female SOE agents went to France principally for an amorous fling. And often the research was mopped over the surface with the subtlety of an industrial detergent.
Profile Image for Tim.
198 reviews86 followers
April 11, 2017
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 more 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.
Profile Image for F.R..
Author 30 books201 followers
April 14, 2011
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 more 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 more 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.
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,493 reviews960 followers
May 22, 2013

'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, more 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 character:

The 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 enthusiasm.

Depression - 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 metric:

I 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 more abstract and philosophical atitude of the painter :

- Are 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 Verdun:

Like 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 Charlotte:

- Do 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 flux:

Levade 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.
Profile Image for Feli.
89 reviews42 followers
July 13, 2021

Reseña en español abajo!

I think that it just wasn't the right time for me to read it, but it is a good book. I don't want to give it a bad review only because I don't enjoy that genre - it would be unfair. For people interested in that kind of genre, I think it would be a good book.


Creo que no lo leí en el momento indicado, pero sí fue un buen libro. No quiero darle una mala reseña tan solo porque no disfruto este género, sería injusto. Para la gente interesada en este tipo de libros me parece que podría ser una buena lectura.
Profile Image for Jess.
16 reviews1 follower
July 9, 2011
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.
Profile Image for Jess.
382 reviews244 followers
June 19, 2020
Charlotte Gray broadcasts an exceptionally distorted definition of courage, depicting a young woman endangering her life only to pursue a specious personal agenda. She contributes nothing to the resistance or war effort, and her only motivation is a man. Unsurprisingly, Charlotte Gray has just about as much agency to rival that of a warm, limp lettuce leaf. The novel is a grim mockery of the dedication and fierce bravery of the SOE girls, exploiting a very real and turbulent episode in European history and failing to present the complexity of the sacrifice these women were willing to make. Many of them gave their lives.

At its core, Charlotte Gray is a saccharine and unconvincing romance masquerading as gritty historical fiction. The backdrop of World War II serves no other true function than as a convenient setting to orchestrate a romance and amplify the associated angst - because only in the presence of sadistic Fascist regimes and all their inconveniences can you prove your love for someone, right? Travesties such as The Nightingale are prime examples that perpetuate this attitude which I find, quite frankly, disrespectful (see my thoughts here). The romance in question is entirely unfounded and unconvincing: Charlotte and Gregory do not seem to connect on any psychological level, so their fling is certainly never emotionally compelling. Perhaps if the relationship were even vaguely moving, then I could condone Charlotte only consenting to SOE on his behalf. She is a submissive and stale character who does nothing to prove that she is worth emotional investment, or even competent enough for recruitment. So this, ah, romance (as well as Charlotte’s sex appeal, of course) functioning as an integral justification and plot point angers me: it belies any sort of feminist objective because Charlotte does not empower herself. Is this really the best tribute Faulks could pay to the female experience amidst the androcentricity of war?

The writing itself is a dense and turgid tract of little literary merit. Faulks ascribes volumes of details to poor effect, presumably to achieve some level of verisimilitude, but the result is invasive and sacrifices any authority the plot may have otherwise commanded. The narrative itself is meandering , excruciatingly dull (I skim-read from the halfway mark), and ultimately achieves nothing. Add this to your dimensionless and archetypal characters and you’re in for this sterile, aimless and bloodless slog.

Not amused. I’m astounded that this has earned itself such laudatory praise - and a decent rating here on Goodreads. As far as I’m concerned, this is a dry trivialization of a harrowing truth. It offers no new, surprising or enlightening perspective on a very well trodden time period. Most crucially, in terms of alerting a modern audience to the incredible achievements of Special Operations Executive, this does far more damage that it does good.
Profile Image for Mark.
191 reviews51 followers
May 1, 2019
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.”
Profile Image for Pam Baddeley.
Author 2 books45 followers
July 16, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Elizabeth (Alaska).
1,286 reviews419 followers
August 24, 2016
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 more 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 more 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 novel: "You'll write your one story many ways. Don't ever worry about story. You have only one." Faulks 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.
Profile Image for Renee.
353 reviews15 followers
April 26, 2008
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 more for it than that. Not bad, but still rather simple and generic.

Find more book reviews at A Quick Red Fox.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
742 reviews213 followers
July 19, 2016
Having recently read and admired 'Birdsong' by Sebastian Faulks, I was keen to read Charlotte Gray. I loved it.
What a fascinating, at times terrifying journey she undertakes! We follow her journey from Scotland as she heads south to London to do her bit for the war effort, meeting various people who each alter the course of her life, and one of whom she falls in love with, and it becomes her destiny to follow him to France. But on arriving in France and uncovering the truth of the situation there for some of the people, her mission takes on a much broader purpose as she seeks to mend or at least temporarily 'patch-up' the heartaches in the lives of some of those she encounters.

It is beautifully written, with wonderful characters like the old man Charlotte looks after for a time in France, Levade, and his son Julien who is bravely battling in one of the Resistance movements, and with whom Charlotte finds a true and enduring friendship unlike anything in her past. Through the novel we learn of the events over in France during these 'dark' times, and to discover more about the ways of their then leaders and their complicity with the Germans in rounding up Jews is startling. It is extremely moving and disquieting to read the passages about first Levade, and then the children, as they meet their horrific and appalling fates. Faulkes is a masterly storyteller, and succeeds here in crafting an enthralling, moving novel which I could not put down for long, and which I would like to read again one day.
Profile Image for Kathy.
459 reviews6 followers
February 24, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Lis.
43 reviews37 followers
March 30, 2009
This book was fantastic. I find Sebastian Faulks language and imagery fascinating. This has something to do with the fact that I am also fascinated by war literature, but also has much to do with Sebastian Faulks love story. His description of love, love for ones country and the epic love story between Charlotte and Gregory is simply stunning. His description of the landscapes he sets his charcters in was also beautiful. Beauty is juxtaposed with harrowing images of the 2nd world war, and particularly the treatment of French Jews.

This book made me think a lot about what it would have been like to live through the war in a time of such terror. An amazing book overall.
Profile Image for Suzanne.
467 reviews1 follower
February 9, 2008
Charlotte Gray is Sebastian Faulk's second book on war. This one is on World War 2 and this time the heroine is female. Like "Birdsong" the character escapes into war after a painful love affair. This character becomes an agent in the French Underground movement which gives the novel a John LeCarre feel. There was an unfortunate film made from this novel which was very disappointing. The novel has far more substance and the author's imagery with words exceeds that of the film.
17 reviews
May 17, 2010
I only perservered with this book because of how much i enjoyed the previous two "french" books by Faulks. This is no where near as good. It rambles and stumbles and i know he thinks there is something deep here about identity and personality, but it fails to reveal itself in the turgid storyline. It does finally pick up the pace after about 350 pages of a 500 page book but too late to save itself.
6 reviews1 follower
December 18, 2010
Perhaps, using a lot of " Carve her name with Pride " annotation in the storyline.
However, as masterfully written as other Faulks books. The book does
transport you straight into German Occupied France of WW2.
The omnipresent peril into which the herione has been placed is
vividly conveyed, and leaves the reader agitated for her continued

As the story progresses, the brutal reality of reprisals against
Allied espionage activity against the German war effort in France,
emphatically captures the gravity of the undertaking into which
Charlotte has become immersed.

I really enjoyed the book, it takes you just so much farther than
any film ever can.
Even when the film heroine is played by an actress of the stature of
Cate Blanchett .
I am a fan of Sebastian Faulks writng without question. I only
wish my own could come anywhere near approaching his standards.
I'll keep trying....
Profile Image for Justkeepreading.
1,854 reviews72 followers
April 29, 2015
This is my first Sebastian Faulks book I have read I was leant it by a friend who told me it was very hard to get into, and boy was she right. The first 200 pages or so we a real struggle to get through. I wanted to hurl the book at the wall and yell defeat. But I prevailed. I would love to say it got better and well it did for a bit. The devastation of the war was well written but the ending left me deflated. Not warming to the main character is a real bug bear of mine why have a main character people feel that they can't relate to is beyond me. All in all it maybe a little time before I try another Sebastian Faulks book .........
Profile Image for Ann.
108 reviews52 followers
August 8, 2008
A lovely London drizzle of a book, giving back in atmosphere and mood what it lacks in comfort or pleasure. The care and research is so evident and painstaking, the writing so precise, it fools you that you’re not emotionally involved, so be prepared for emotional devastation when, in the last fifty pages, the author cuts all those beautiful cords he’s woven between the characters, leaving you winded.
Profile Image for Amena.
243 reviews91 followers
September 3, 2015
Can I read it all again please? Superbly written. Beautiful characters. A powerful love. Strong relationships that surpass friendship. All amidst a war. The description of which you feel as if you are living the war with them. My first ever Faulks. Love love.
Profile Image for Huw Rhys.
508 reviews12 followers
January 6, 2011
Just a beautiful book - Sebastian Faulks gets it spot on, as usual.
28 reviews4 followers
June 27, 2008
Doing for the 2nd World War what he did for the 1st in "Birdsong", Sebastian Faulks presents a wonderful picture of life in France during the war years.

Charlotte Gray is sent to Occupied France to run an errand for an undercover special operations unit. However she has a mission of her own - to find her lover, and airman lost in action over France.

She stays in France, against her orders, and settles in the small town of Lauverette whilst she tries to find information about her lover. Hiding her identity from the townspeople she suffers, along with them, at the hands of the occupying german army.She finds work and friendship with a cantankerous artist, Levade, whose son runs the local resistance unit.

Meanwhile her lover, Peter Gregory, injured and alone, is attempting to find a way back across the channel impeded by his tenuous grasp of the French language but aided by french people supporting the Allied effort.

As the war progresses, things in Lauverette become worse neighbours decry their neighbours to the German authorities as pressure is put on by local commanders to fill the quotas of "undesirables" being sent to concentration camps.

Charlottes employer, Levade, is packed off to a concentration camp despite having no religious beliefs himself because his grandfather had a Jewish mother. We see through his eyes the dreadful way in which Jewish people, including children, were treated in the concentration camps.

There is a link to Birdsong, we discover that Charlottes father served under Wraysford(the main character of Birdsong) during the 1st World War and his daughters experiences in France enable her at last to make peace with her father and make sense of a confusing episode from her past.

This book brings the period to life and teaches the reader about the situation in France at that time. Above all this though it is a love story and a very powerful one, two people attempting to find each other and return home, each one only able to continue by keeping the other in mind.

If you've read Birdsong you'll love this book too, and if you haven't then read them both!
Profile Image for Ellie M.
262 reviews58 followers
January 7, 2017
I liked this book but didn't think it was as good as some of Sebastian Faulks other novels. On the plus side it educated me a bit more about France under occupation in WW2 - I noticed done reviewers didn't like that aspect of the novel but I thought it was handled well.

Charlotte, a young Scottish girl, meets Peter, an RAF pilot and romance ensues (I see Faulks was award a bad sex award and yes one scene was a bit cringy). Peter is of flying secret missions in France and crashes and goes missing. Charlotte, recently recruited to G section, a secret group assisting the French resistance, goes on mission to France, to work and to find Peter.

Charlotte, a French speaker, spends longer in France than she imagines, on her quest to find Peter. She continues to help the resistance and becomes friends with Julien and Levade. Levade, an old man had a secret Jewish past. His son Julien is protecting some young Jewish children. Charlotte gets involved with trying to hide the children, but dark times mean it is not always easy.

This story, in part, reminds me of Kristin Hannah book The Nightingale . It was written before The Nightingale but the French backdrop and the Jewish question are similar. Overall it is an emotional story, again well written, but not my favourite. I would recommend it to anyone interested in wartime France.

Profile Image for Wendy.
548 reviews153 followers
June 27, 2009
I couldn't resist picking up this novel after reading the back cover. A young Scottish woman (Charlotte) follows her downed pilot lover (Peter Gregory) to France as a Secrete SOE-type agent to help the French Resistance, and perhaps even rescue Peter. The plot sounds very intriguing...unfortunately, the author didn't pull it off nearly as well as he could have. Peter Gregory disappears somewhere over France at the very beginning, and has very little to do with the remainder of the book. He's just sort of gone. Charlotte, in France all because of Peter, doesn't seem to have the passionate motivation to find him that I would have expected. Instead, she finds Julian, a member of the Resistance who develops an attraction to her. And yet she keeps herself unattached (for the most part). Meanwhile a subplot about two young Jewish boys in hiding develops, abut the main characters have relatively little to do with them...and a depressing subplot it is. Faulks knows how to develop drama in a sweeping-type story, but the story itself felt fragmented, like a bunch of different pieces that didn't completely come together. On the other hand, the material was well-researched (through interviews of real people) and though fictional it was historically accurate. kudos
Profile Image for Geoff.
65 reviews5 followers
March 19, 2011
I felt for the characters in Charlotte Gray. The story was plausible and I wanted to know what happened next. Structurally too the novel was pretty good; the manipulation of tension within the story was expertly handled and for me that was part of the enjoyment.

What I didn't like were aspects of Faulks' style. He ascribes too much importance to everyday actions, as though everything in the book has some significant philosophical meaning. There is a place for this of course - how dull stories would be if the actions of the characters were not analysed and described like that every now and then. The trouble with Faulks is that he does it all the time.

Scenes of intimacy in the book weren't handled too well either. I felt they were a little too close to the descriptions I expect to find in romantic fiction. Critics have said that Faulks writes sex scenes as though he's never experienced any himself. That's perhaps a little far fetched but I know what they mean. There's something a little too unconvincing about these passages and I didn't feel they were particularly readable.

It's unfortunate that the negative aspects were so invasive. I felt my reading of the novel was spoiled by them and for that reason I can only give Charlotte Gray two stars.
947 reviews10 followers
August 18, 2016
This book gave me a totally new way of looking at the people of France during the Second War. We were always taught that it was fear of repercussions that kept the French quiescent during the first part of the war. Faulks says that there were a large number of people who felt that the Republic had lost its way, that the government was not providing leadership and that if they had to put up with the Germans in order to get some order and direction in the country then that is what they would do. The only people who would be hurt would be undesirables and France would be better off without them. It was startling to read, especially the strong hatred of the English, something I've met in milder form elsewhere. "What is the matter with that fool Churchill, that he can't recognise when he's beaten and who wants to listen to de Gaul when we have the heroic Marshall Petain to run things?"
It was a revelation and a fascinating read, even if there were times when I wanted to smack Charlotte up alongside her head. Her relationship with her parents is troubled and the resolution of that is something that you really have to stop and think about. The most startling bit of writing is the last sentence about the boys and the last sentence in the book which are matched phrase for phrase.
Profile Image for Caroline.
718 reviews121 followers
March 23, 2011
I had high hopes for this book, because I absolutely loved Birdsong, but I found it left me rather unmoved. It's written in what seems, to me at least, to be a curiously detached style and it didn't seem to really penetrate beneath the surface of the characters. Even amidst the danger of Occupied France, SS officers on trains, children being sent to concentration camps, the collaboration and resistance of the French, I never really cared very much about what happened to the characters. The one part that did affect me, the two young boys being sent to the gas chambers, was less about the specific fate of those two characters and more about the actual fate of the children who really were killed in the Holocaust. So, a disappointment, I would say.
Profile Image for Katie.
5 reviews1 follower
April 10, 2014
Having loved Birdsong, I approached this novel with a weighty amount of expectation that was perhaps unfair and definitely not met.

I found Charlotte, the title character and driver of the novel's path to be disappointingly dependant, and really quite irritating. She seemed to gain independence to a certain degree once in France, but at not point did I feel she was an advocate for female power in the war effort, when her drive is built on finding a man.

Having said this, I do enjoy Faulks' writing, and felt that certain parts of the novel were strong and emotive, particularly in France, and so would still recommend the novel, although I felt it didn't have the beauty of Birdsong.
Profile Image for Rosalind Minett.
Author 20 books52 followers
October 19, 2014
Very well plotted. Thoroughly satisfying.

This novel brings out the sheer courage and risk-taking of both French and English in circumstances impossible to replicate today.
More than that, there are three very strongly-drawn characters. Altogether, not a novel to put down unless forced by the daily round!
46 reviews
December 29, 2015
This was a fantastic book set in wwII France and England. As historical fiction, it was fascinating to read. As a love story, it was sweet, but not overly and not maudlin. The secondary characters made the book. I found myself crying as a read about the inhumanity shown in this time period, but there were moments of hope too. I can't wait to read another book by this author.
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