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Charlotte Gray: A Novel Hardcover – February 2, 1999

3.3 out of 5 stars 82 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In his 1996 novel, Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks showed himself to be a superb anatomist of men--and, just as importantly, women--at war. Indeed, his depiction of trench combat during World War I was almost painfully vivid: the equivalent of Wilfred Owen in prose, minus the lingering idealism. Now the author shifts his focus to the next global conflict in Charlotte Gray. This time the year is 1942, when "England was blacked out and afraid." The 25-year-old heroine has just traveled down from Edinburgh to London, hoping to make some contribution to the war effort. In short order she falls in love with a British pilot, mourns his disappearance and apparent death in France, and follows him across the Channel to assist the nascent French Resistance.

On the face of it, these are the ingredients of a historical potboiler. But Faulks is such a gifted storyteller that we seldom notice the threadbare nature of the raw material. Instead, all but the most churlish reader will be drawn into Charlotte's tribulations, which are not merely geopolitical but amorous: "The last thing she needed was some uncontrolled romance. She wanted to be helpful, she wanted to lead a serious life, not to lie sobbing in her bed for a disembodied yearning. Still less did she wish to see it embodied, with the complication and the fear that all that would entail." (Note: Charlotte is that rare thing, a virginal heroine, at least until page 61.) What's more, the author's evocation of Occupied France is a triumph of grimy, monochromatic realism. Here the small triumphs of Charlotte and her circle are expertly offset by the larger tragedies of what we've come to call, with only middling accuracy, the Good War. --William Davies

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.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 399 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (February 2, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037550169X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375501692
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #988,931 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rene J. Defourneaux on May 5, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I read Charlotte Gray with great interest. At time it was for me so emotionally upsetting I had to stop reading for a while until I recovered my composure. As a former SOE agent, having been dropped in France during WWII I was faced with some very similar conditions. It brought back to my mine some forgotten incidents. This book may be fiction, but it describes very accurately the real French Resistance and not the one described by Hollywood, or those who wished they had been involved. I was so disappointed with the attitude and the behavior of my former countrymen that I did not return to France for forty years. Charlotte Gray explains why very clearly.
Rene J. Defourneaux, Major US Army (Ret.) Author of The Winking Fox, and of The Tracks of the Fox.
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Format: Hardcover
I must say that I'm dismayed by several of the reviews that I've read here. The general consensus is that Birdsong is Faulks masterpiece and anything that is written and read afterward by Faulks must measure up to this. Fortunately, I've not read Birdsong so I'm not predisposed toward an opinion of Faulks. However, after reading Charlotte Gray, I will read Birdsong because this man can write like few others around. His ability to weave a story leaves no doubt in my mind that this is a writer who has extraordinary talent. Charlotte Gray was a very plausible story and so multi-leveled that I fail to understand how someone could not like it. Certainly it is not a profound masterpiece with universal insights that will enrich the minds of generations of readers. But it is a very well plotted story with a ton of information that very few people that are still alive today would know about Vichy France and the lives of ordinary people both in England and France that it affected. And, Charlotte Gray is an ordinary person in many respects which some of the reviewers fail to remember. What do they expect that all women who helped out in the war effort did superhuman tasks and that only the bravest or craziest are worth writing about? Get real people, most of the heroes and heroines are largely unimaginative people whom you wouldn't pay much attention to you if you knew them! Faulks has done an admirable job telling a story that's been told many times before but with a decidedly different point of view. He draws you into his characters and makes you want to know what is going to happen to them. This is a page turner that will leave any thinking person with more than they started with by the book's end. He has nothing to be ashamed of with Charlotte Gray and has an enthusiastic fan that will relish reading his Birdsong.
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By A Customer on August 29, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Like most of the other reviewers here I found that Charlotte Gray didn't come close to Birdsong - but maybe it is unfair to compare the too. Charlotte is a good read. I came to care deeply about all of the characters and was eager to see what would happen to them. The one part of the story that rings false is the love story between Charlotte and Peter. Much like the granddaughter in Birdsong, this plot seemed contrived as a way to tell the rest of the story. Faulks is at his best describing life in "Free" France and the people who lived there. His prose brings the landscape and even the smells to life. From anyone else this would have probably been considered a wonderful book, maybe it's just that from Faulks we've come to expect a bit more.
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Format: Hardcover
I have had to reflect upon Faulks' 'Charlotte Gray' for some time to refrain from critcising it unduly. This is, quite genuinely, a convincing and well-woven story that will greatly appeal to first time readers of Faulks, yet still it may be a slight disappointment to those who have read 'Birdsong'.
In itself, 'Charlotte Gray' is an accomplished novel by a gifted storyteller. - Our eponymous heroine is a complex and fairly intriuging lady, but in my opinion was less well conceived than the characters who accompany her in wartime France. The Jewish father and son, who aid Charlotte in the Resistance and in her search for her missing lover, are particularly compelling.
In criticism, the concentration camps present in 'Charlotte Gray' would have benefited from the visceral style Faulks' employed in his description of the First World War trenches of 'Birdsong'. Unfortunately, the horrors of the Second World War are not described with the clarity or power present in his earlier book.
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Format: Paperback
Jam-packed with twists and turns, Sebastian Faulks' `Charlotte Gray' is definitely a worthwhile. I'll admit I was, at first, sceptical about reading the book, as I feared it would be another demeaning drama about some poor distressed damsel during the war, however, I was honestly taken back by Charlotte's independence, determination and inspirational courage.

Rife with emotional intensity and interesting plots, it was a pleasure to travel with her to France where she hoped to assist in the revolution while searching for Gregory, her lover, a British who is presumed dead by all but the ever-hopeful Charlotte. In France, the plot divides in two, on one hand we follow the trials and tribulations of Charlotte, and on the other we take an in-depth look at WWII in occupied France.

This book provides a stark but accurate picture of the horrors of the Holocaust, without taking from Charlotte's own personal predicaments. I've actually read it three times now, and on every occasion I've discovered some new detail or aspect that has kept me constantly enthralled. You should read this book; it's not just a worthwhile read - it's an experience.
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